Wilful incomprehension. It was palpable in Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s attitude towards UKIP’s Nigel Farage during their head-to-head TV debate last week. And it has been palpable in the political and media reaction to Farage’s performance. Assorted establishment politicians and pundits just don’t know what to do with Nigel. They seem determined to find him and, more importantly, his arguments irrational. As they seem desperate to see it, Farage is mad, bad and dangerous to vote for.
In the debate itself, Clegg seemed to be under instructions to present himself as the man with the facts – and Farage, therefore, as the man with the fantasies and foibles. ‘We owe it to you [the audience], we owe it to everyone, to ensure that these debates are at least based on facts’, he intoned at one point. At other points, Clegg just acted weary, as if everything Farage said was straight out of Alice in Wonderland. ‘Let’s look at the facts’, he would say.
This attempt to bash Farage into the ground with ‘the facts’, to present him as borderline delusional, as beyond the political pale, continued after the debate. And the principal point of departure for Farage-bashing has been his arguments about the EU’s role in the disintegration of Ukraine, and his comments about the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Right at the end of last Wednesday’s head-to-head, Farage said that the British government and the EU had played a ‘shameful’ role in fomenting the crisis in Ukraine. ‘We have given a false series of hopes to a group of people in the western Ukraine and so geed up were they that they actually toppled their own elected leader’, said Farage. ‘That provoked Putin and I think the European Union, frankly, does have blood on its hands in the Ukraine.’
Farage’s argument is perfectly legitimate. Assorted Western politicians, with the EU to the fore, explicitly expressed support for the anti-government protesters. They vocally endorsed what the protesters were doing and, in many cases, visited Maidan Square in Kiev to show their solidarity with those seeking to bring down Ukraine’s elected president, Viktor Yanukovich. In doing so, Western politicians, cheered on by Russia-baiting commentators at home, helped to destabilise Ukraine, and authorise the overthrowing of Yanukovich. And all too predictably, Putin was forced to respond to what was effectively a threat on Russia’s border.