Some time between Nigel Farage’s airplane crash (2010) and the publication of his memoir, The Purple Revolution (2015), I met him on a radio panel, a soft-chat, Sunday night format the place he talked about his testicle swelling to the scale of a lemon when he was 21. Truthfully, I wasn’t actually listening till he received to the bit in regards to the lemon, so thought this associated to the airplane crash, and I received advised off by the producer afterwards for not taking testicular most cancers severely. By far the better mistake was not taking Farage severely. At this point, he didn’t actually register as a political pressure. Ukip, a lot talked about within the 00s, had been sidelined by the austerity agenda, on which he didn’t have loads to say. Yet he was thought-about clubbable, simple on the ear, a dependable and likable controversialist, and maintained a media presence on that foundation.
Across the entire spectrum of opinion, from those that agreed with him a few of the time to those that loathed every part he stood for, the identical underestimation was made: simply how far he would go to harness any underlying rage he perceived, and the way well-grounded his notion was. It was clear because the Brexit outcome was introduced that he wouldn’t cease there: in widespread with Donald Trump’s triumph, his victory speech was marked by the splenetic drum beat of “this is just the beginning”.
So regardless that there’s no apparent logical connection between opposing Brussels and rejecting lockdown to quell a virus – the goal of his new Reform UK social gathering – there’s an emotional one. It was remarked by allies of Farage final month that he had recognized a piece of 2019 Conservative voters, even perhaps a 3rd of them, who have been already dissatisfied on three counts. These are described by Patrick O’Flynn within the Spectator as “an apparent failure to stand up for British history and culture; opposition among libertarian-inclined people to lockdown measures and the continuing chaotic immigration system”.
There are errors we don’t want to make twice or, certainly, for the 75th time. Pointing out what is admittedly meant by “British culture” – a mash-up of “blitz spirit”, colonial greatness (all of the money, not one of the cruelty), ladies who knew their place, and Victoria sponge – is all only a trashy pastiche conjured by individuals who, even when this period had existed, weren’t born in time for it, just isn’t price your breath. Farage and his new social gathering, identical to the others, thrive on scorn. The extra they’re held in contempt by cheap opinion, the extra respectable their rage against the elites. It’s a jiu-jitsu transfer which, once more, makes complete emotional sense.
Noting that lots of Farage’s supporters are older voters, the very folks lockdown is designed to defend, won’t assist: there’s a kamikaze spirit to this political pressure, which doesn’t simply disregard GDP, unemployment, seven-mile lorry queues and ICU numbers, however actively thrives on the negatives; laughing within the face of ache is proof of its braveness, sincerity and fervour.
Finally, on that “chaotic immigration”, making humanitarian arguments is maybe the best mistake of all. This has actually been essentially the most profound shock of our present politics: that cruelty, as soon as it finds its political expression, can’t be fought by itself phrases. If you get to the point the place a five-year-old and an eight-year-old can drown within the English Channel, and a vigilante vowing to patrol the seas for migrants – for readability: not to assist them, however to hinder – is represented on BBC news as a voice of salt-of-the-earth Brits, the infinite preciousness of each human life just isn’t going to reduce it on this debate.
The reply is identical right here as it’s wherever; how do you argue with local weather deniers? How do you argue with the alt-right? How do you argue with racists and incels, and QAnon? You don’t: all you are able to do is construct an alternative.
The consequence of underestimating Nigel Farage initially has been a mad compensatory scramble to perceive him and his motion, recognise the grievance, signify its issues, pay due respect to its authenticity. On the lockdown problem notably, you can search widespread floor with Reform UK (whose identify change from the Brexit social gathering, by the way, was registered over a week ago – may Boris Johnson have been the final particular person within the nation to see this lockdown coming?). The libertarian arguments is perhaps bilge, however components of the case make extra sense: that lockdowns can by no means work with out competent test-and-trace programs working alongside them, that the toll on psychological well being is just too nice. It is within the nature of cheap, grownup discourse to search widespread floor and construct on it. But consensus just isn’t what the Farage spirit seeks. As quickly as you’ve discovered it, he’ll be haring off to the following demand, that each one EU residents be despatched house, or that gunboats line the Channel, or no matter contemporary hell it is perhaps.
The job of vanquishing Farage, this time, is neither in hand-wringing about his callousness, nor in celebrating a lockdown that no person is trying ahead to, however in constructing a plan for what comes subsequent. The Conservatives, as a celebration of imaginative and prescient or path, are a spent pressure: they are going to be buffeted by whichever wind is the strongest.
• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist