The rabble rouser

June 9, 2024

The rabble rouser

Dear All,


On July 4, British voters will go to the polls. Why exactly Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has chosen this date is unclear. Yes, it falls on a Thursday and ever since 1965, UK polling has always taken place on Thursdays, but also perhaps Sunak and his team thought they might capitalise on the liberation aspect of the US Independence Day. If so, this was a miscalculation: at the moment, all British voters seem to want liberation from is the Conservatives.

The election campaign is progressing as these campaigns do. Nobody really believes what the politicians are telling them and the politicians continue to tour constituencies, badmouth their opponents and have assorted photo-ops. Polls are predicting that it will be an awful result for the Tories and that Labour will almost certainly have a majority but both main parties continue to talk of immigration and migration, each trying to outdo the other. And now to make sure that immigration remains a primary issue, Nigel Farage has entered the electoral fray.

Farage is one of the main proponents and, arguably, one of the main architects of Brexit. He was once in the Conservative Party but was one of the Eurosceptics who left it in 1992. He was one of the Eurosceptics involved in creating the UK Independence Party founded by Alan Sked. Within a few years, he and his supporters had taken over the party and Farage had become its best-known personality. In 2006, Farage became the leader of the party. After leading a xenophobic campaign for the EU referendum, Farage celebrated this victory but then joined the Brexit Party in 2018. This right-wing group later became the Reform UK party. Farage stepped down as its leader in 2021 and was succeeded by Richard Tice who funded and sustained Reform UK from then on.

Farage is a thorn in the side for the Conservatives. In the past, he has managed to deplete their vote bank and steal away Tory voters. Although he had initially announced he wouldn’t be a candidate in this election, last week he called an ‘emergency’ presser and announced that not only would he now head ReformUK, he would also be a candidate in an Essex constituency, Clacton.

As usual, Farage’s antics have gained him far more press attention than he probably deserves. He is heading a fringe party that had no representatives in the last parliament, (and has never had any elected MPs) and which has no hope of forming a government this time round. Despite this, British news channels (BBC, Sky) broadcast his presser live as if it were a significant event. News editors need to think about what they are doing; is it actually right to broadcast his pressers live and highlight his actions so excitedly just because Farage creates a sort of theatre around all he does and says?

Farage has made a career out of xenophobia and racism. Four years ago, he directed his poisonous narrative at Europeans, painting them as the ‘foreigners’ and the people responsible for all of Britain’s woes, claiming they were stealing jobs and misusing benefits and social services. Once Brexit was achieved, he had nothing much to say about the economic and workforce crisis Britain’s exit from the European Union had triggered. Now, it seems Farage’s xenophobic narrative will target Muslims and stoke Islamophobia. He has already declared that “Muslims don’t share British values.” One expects more such rhetoric as the campaign progresses.

The rabble rouser

So far, Farage’s message to voters has been along the lines “Labour will win anyway but I represent somebody who can lead opposition.” His role seems to be as a disruptor and a destroyer of the Conservative party – for that is the party he seems to want to damage. Many analysts have wondered if his aim is basically to take over the Conservative party much in the manner that the Tea Party was able to gain influence in the Republican Party in America. In this election, that certainly seems to be his goal. It is also interesting to note that till last week he was not a candidate because he had said he wanted to work on his friend Donald Trump’s election campaign. Perhaps, his change of mind has something to do with Trump’s recent criminal conviction and the uncertainty surrounding the latter’s fate.

Farage is basically a right-wing populist who thrives on publicity. Because he is so theatrical, the British press cannot resist giving him publicity even though this coverage magnifies his divisive and misleading messages. Apparently, as far back as his school days, a teacher wrote to the headmaster of Farage’s school, Dulwich College, suggesting that Farage should not be appointed as a prefect because of his allegedly fascist views. The suggestion was dismissed by the head on the basis that the student was well known for being provocative. Provocative is what he continues to be: he peddles a narrative of division and xenophobia. If challenged, he accuses critics of being “boring.” Other than that it’s all British values, patriotism and stop-the-immigration.

Farage seems to understand the axiom that all publicity is good no matter how negative it seems. Recently a young woman threw a milkshake at him in Clacton. Many people are so suspicious of him that they thought this might have been a publicity stunt.

As Farage continues to attack the Tories and try to steal ground on the political right from them, he will provide plenty of drama on the campaign trail. Because the two main party leaders are so lacklustre and so unconvincing, the media will be tempted to cover Farage whenever they can. The temptation is understandable: Farage’s performances are strangely compelling in the same way Boris Johnson’s were. He’s like a vaudeville performer and a stand-up comedian in one. The theatre is entertaining but the press needs to get some perspective and not give Farage more coverage than he and his party merit. And the press needs to question his motives and scrutinise his political networks and financial interests carefully. Farage keeps bouncing back into the British political scene every few years, grinning and spouting xenophobia, prejudice, ‘patriotism’ and alarmist messages. His resilience and his motives need more scrutiny than the media have so far managed.

It will be interesting to see how Reform UK candidates fare in this election and whether the return of Farage will serve to boost their chances. In recent by-elections, this party did very well and in at least one constituency they gained far more votes than the Conservative party. Let’s see what Farage the Destroyer is able to achieve.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The rabble rouser