Farage and Brand: cut from the same cynical cloth
Their big spat on QT actually showed how much they have in common.
Russell Brand against Nigel Farage – what a masterstroke by BBC’s Question Time. To pit the popular, reviled, ridiculed and controversial, grinning populist against the leader of UKIP. Talk about letting the gatekeeper meet the key master.
Last night’s show, broadcast from Canterbury in Kent, was a calculated ploy, of course. The two men have little love for each other – Brand proceeded to call Farage a ‘loon’ and a ‘pound-shop Enoch Powell’ – and on paper they are polar opposites. One is a verbose dandy, a serial shagger, a recovered drug addict and a darling of the more naive elements of the liberal left. Farage is the cigar-smoking, beer-swilling self-appointed spokesman for the lower-middle-class and working-class Poujadist tendency.
Both can safely be called ‘Marmite’ people. And judging by the trailers for the episode, the BBC was fully aware that these two characters, perversely, have much in common, despite contrasting appearances, differing perspectives on immigration and certainly their respective appeal to women. Both Farage and Brand purport to speak up for the small guy against the big bullies. And both are united by an antipathy to modern capitalism, globalisation, ‘Westminster’ and big business.
So when Brand opened with a familiar lament about ‘all parties being the same’, about ‘detached’ politicians only attending parliament to discuss their pay, Nigel Farage followed by observing that there was no difference between Labour and the Conservatives these days. He, too, bemoaned ‘career politicians’. Both panellists used the term ‘the rich’ disparagingly throughout. Both played to the anti-politician mood of the audience, who, as it transpired, proved more interesting and spirited than the panel.
This weird synthesis is a product of the global downturn, globalisation and UKIP’s reaction to these developments. In recent years, UKIP has started to pick up voters in the north of England and from traditional Labour constituencies. It’s a different beast to that which, during the 1990s, was supported mostly by middle-class, golf-club types and anti-EU monomaniacs.
UKIP has noticeably moved leftwards in accordance with its broadening appeal. A recent YouGov survey for the The Times showed that 56 per cent of the population wanted the state to take back ownership of utilities, and 59 per cent supported renationalising the railways. But the clamour for renationalisation was even higher among UKIP voters – 64 per cent for utilities and 67 per cent for the railways. UKIP now openly speaks of renationalising the railways, with its financial spokesman, Steven Woolfe, earlier this week saying he was open to the idea.
Indeed, today’s UKIP speaks of a ‘living minimum wage’, a tax on the super rich and protecting the NHS from the private sector. It now comes in for as much criticism from Tories and the libertarian right as from the metropolitan left (check out the hashtag #RedUKIP on Twitter, for instance). Why, asks the right-wing libertarian commentator James Delingpole, is UKIP now ‘flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers Party?’.
It’s no coincidence that free-market, pro-immigration publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times are as hostile to UKIP as the Guardian is. It’s often said that UKIP wants to ‘turn the clock back’, which is a fair accusation. But keep in mind that its supporters also increasingly want to turn the clock back to a pre-Thatcherite Britain.
Russell Brand is infamous for his wonderfully loquacious and incoherent invectives against ‘capitalism’, ‘the Establishment’, ‘the system’ and other such abstract nouns. As for Farage, we hear less and less about the despicable EU from him these days. Instead, he prefers to inveigh against the ‘out-of-touch, liberal, metropolitan elite’, those rich types who employ cheaper Eastern European plumbers and builders, or big-business leaders who do likewise with their vassal workforce. The perception that it’s the poor who suffer most from immigration, and only the rich who benefit, was once again articulated by audience members in Kent last night.
It is no surprise that UKIP is supplanting Labour outside London, among those who believe that big business has put them out of work and that the well-off either don’t understand or care. Despite the fact that Labour’s Emily Thornberry didn’t actually say anything rude about that house in Strood draped in English flags, the ingrained perception that wealthy liberals disdain the British working class was sufficient enough to cause a Twitterstorm. You may well hear Brand use that phrase ‘socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor’, to describe ‘the system’, but many UKIP supporters feel exactly the same.
Discontent with globalisation, capitalism and ‘the elite’ (political and economic) takes many forms. In Greece and Spain, it has spurred far-left parties; in France, the far right; in Ireland, Scotland and Catalonia, nationalist parties; and, in Italy, a purely protest movement. All of them, as the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne wrote this week, have been ‘brought into existence by a common scream of despair against a broken system’. And on Question Time last night, we merely saw two more symptoms of this same despair at the status quo, the Establishment and ‘the system’.
Patrick West is a columnist for spiked.