The British media and the political class almost never speak from the same script. So their crusade against UKIP and its leader, Nigel Farage, is very interesting. During recent weeks, all the major newspapers and media organisations have devoted considerable resources to exposing this ‘nefarious’ movement. On an almost daily basis, you can read stories about a would-be UKIP parish councillor discovered watching pornography online or an aged party supporter who still believes that Britain actually won the Second World War. One exposé after another has reiterated the wisdom of Conservative prime minister David Cameron’s careful, balanced assessment of UKIP’s membership: ‘fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists.’ Yet despite the efforts of a small army of courageous investigative journalists, endlessly trawling social media for quotable UKIP faux pas, these fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists are still doing well in the polls.
Those attempting to account for the media’s failure to make much of a dent in UKIP’s support usually draw attention to the supposed moral and intellectual inferiority of its supporters. From the standpoint of a Westminster political consultant, the typical UKIP voter is a disgruntled, prejudiced idiot who simply fails to grasp the sophisticated messages of the political oligarchy. ‘We haven’t educated people as to what they are all about – UKIP voters need to be educated’, asserts Glyn Ford, Labour’s former European Parliament leader. Education is what you demand of naughty schoolchildren.
The call to ‘educate’ UKIP voters self-consciously infantilises adult citizens and voters, implicitly reducing them to the status of slow-learning children. From Ford’s perspective, UKIP supporters are clearly his moral inferiors, people who lack the capacity to grasp that perpetuating the status quo is in their best interests. The premise of Ford’s call for educating ‘them’ is best captured by the expression used by the American cultural elite towards their moral inferiors – ‘they don’t get it’. The term expresses a comforting sense of self-flattery – ‘we get it’. It draws attention to the stupidity of ‘they’.
But if anyone is ‘not getting it’, it’s the inhabitants of the Westminster bubble. They simply do not understand why, on this occasion, the propaganda targeting UKIP has had so little effect. Sections of the media have dubbed Nigel Farage the Teflon man of British public life. From their perspective, it seems as if nothing that gets thrown at him sticks. What this analysis fails to grasp is that what is at issue is not the unique qualities of Nigel Farage, but the feeble character of the rhetorical assault directed at him.
The invectives hurled at Farage have been smirking, patronising and lazy. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg sounded as if he was addressing his media trainer rather than the British public during his so-called debates with Farage. The constant overuse of terms like ‘racist’ trivialises this terrible worldview and deprives it of meaning. What mainstream politicians and the media don’t get is that the very attempt to humiliate UKIP, reducing it to the role of xenophobic simpletons, is seen by a section of the public as an expression of contempt towards them.