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Nigel Farage and the hysteria of the Remoaners

The Brexit campaigner’s turn on I’m a Celeb… has both baffled and terrified the elites.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Brexit Culture Politics UK

On Sunday night, the UK narrowly escaped from fascism. Or at least that’s what some more excitable commentators seemed to think was at stake in the I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! final, given Nigel Farage’s starring role. In the end, the former Brexit Party leader turned GB News presenter came third – not quite earning enough votes to be crowned this year’s king of the jungle, but still wildly outperforming expectations.

In mainstream-media circles, there are generally two opinions you’ll hear about Farage, both of which were repeated throughout his time in the I’m a Celebrity… jungle. The first is that he is a dangerous demagogue, a skillful manipulator of the ‘low-information’ plebs, who ought to be banished from TV to protect the health of our democracy. The second is that he is a serial election-loser who has no purchase with the public. Apparently, his failure to win a House of Commons seat is also a reason to keep him off our screens, so as not to give his ‘far right’ views undue weight.

Predictably, the demands to deplatform Farage from I’m a Celebrity… arrived as soon as his appearance was announced. Stewart Lee, who occasionally moonlights as a comedian, lamented in the Guardian last month that ITV had provided ‘an uncritical platform for a dangerous demagogue to present himself as a man of the people without being held to account’. This, Lee warned, would pave Farage’s ‘way to power’. Silly me, thinking the celebrity jungle was just a bit of TV fluff.

Lee’s stablemates at the Guardian and the Observer kept up a steady stream of hysteria throughout this year’s series. John Crace and Barbara Ellen separately expressed their fears that ITV was in danger of ‘normalising’ Farage’s supposedly ‘abhorrent’ views. According to Catherine Bennett, the sight of Farage’s bum in the showers was just one of many elements in I’m a Celeb… that ‘conspired to liberate Farage from his past’ and to present him as ‘one of us’. What these pundits seemed to fear most was that Farage would be humanised, presented as a real-life human being, rather than the fascist monster of their imaginations.

Most pundits were baffled that the public did not want to take revenge on Farage. Not only was he not voted out in the first round (jockey Frankie Dettori suffered that indignity), he was also not chosen for many of the infamous Bushtucker Trials. These humiliating challenges are the modern, televisual version of the stocks, where the least popular celebrities are made to bathe in slime or are assaulted by creepy crawlies. Last year, when former Tory health secretary Matt Hancock was in the jungle, he almost set a record for the number of Bushtucker Trials he was forced to endure.

Would Nigel meet the same fate? At the start of this year’s series, Simon Kelner of the i assured us that viewers would be desperate to mete out punishment for Brexit on Farage. Surely, voters must have been furious at him for turning Britain into a ‘Faragist Brexit dystopia’, as one midwit Remoaner describes our present state? Well, not quite. It’s as if the pundit class had forgotten that 52 per cent of the public actually voted for Leave. In the end, Farage was very rarely selected for the trials.

Perhaps this is where his legendary ‘manipulation’ skills came into play. Kelner himself admitted to briefly being won over by Farage’s ‘blokeish charm’ and forgetting his role in Brexit. ‘I even found myself being manipulated… and felt sick as a result’, Kelner said.

Elsewhere, the Mirror alleged that an even grander, more sinister manipulation campaign had taken place, back home in the UK. Last week, it ran a frontpage story accusing Farage’s social-media team of using ‘fake pictures’ to exaggerate his popularity with the viewers and to encourage people to vote for him.

These very obviously photoshopped images showed images of Nigel in his jungle outfit being plastered on to London’s Tube and even projected on to the Empire State building in New York. ‘Like so many of his claims during the Brexit campaign, all is not what it seems’, said one ITV source. They had essentially wildly over-reacted to some very obvious memes. Those fantastical Remoaner claims about Brexit being won on the back of lies and trickery were simply dusted down and repurposed to explain Farage’s supposedly alarming success in a far less consequential public vote.

Indeed, scrolling through social media or reading most of the major newspapers, you could be forgiven for forgetting this was just a reality-TV show. And yet, Farage’s mere presence was enough to generate spasms of hysteria and dire warnings about our looming descent into a far-right dystopia.

Seven years on from the Brexit vote and the supposedly sensible wing of politics is as disoriented and deranged as ever. They can’t even watch I’m a Celebrity… without seeing it as a harbinger of fascism. Time to stop taking these people seriously.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Brexit Culture Politics UK

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