Mary Kenny: ‘Farage is not a far-right nationalist – but he’s a man who can sell a simple message’

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Mary Kenny: ‘Farage is not a far-right nationalist – but he’s a man who can sell a simple message’


Political message: Nigel Farage keeps it simple. Photo: Simon Dawson
Political message: Nigel Farage keeps it simple. Photo: Simon Dawson

Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is leading the opinion polls for the UK European elections, is routinely described as a right-wing populist and nationalist. Yet, if we examine Farage’s social views, he emerges as, essentially, a liberal and a libertarian.

For example, he favours the decriminalisation of “recreational” drugs. He thinks the “war on drugs” has been lost – and that it’s pointless.

On abortion, he has repeatedly declared himself “pro-choice”. He has added that there is some concern that the 24-week time limit on terminations in Britain has been overtaken by developments in neo-natal technology, whereby infants are surviving at under 24 weeks – but that’s a common sense point that would affect many medics working with pre-term babies.

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Farage has added logic to choice, by saying that when women “choose” to get pregnant, they may find they are at some disadvantage in the workplace. In business – and his professional background is as a City of London trader – they may lose their “client base”. This is probably a fact of life in these fields.

On gay marriage, he’s been evasive. When asked about his views, he deflected the subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights over British law, and then to whether the Church of England should be forced to conduct same-sex weddings.

Basically, he doesn’t seem to have any great interest in the matter, though when he was involved with Ukip he probably had to be prudent about his constituency base.

On divorce, Farage is surely a liberal, since he is divorced from his first wife, Gráinne Hayes, the Irish nurse who cared for him when he was a 21-year-old traffic accident victim, and is separated from his second wife, Kirsten Mehr.

A widely reported dalliance with a 25-year-old Latvian named Lita would indicate he is fairly liberal in his approach to sexuality. Though pally with Donald Trump, Farage has distanced himself from the US president’s “groping” of women, describing it as “ugly”.

When asked to nominate his political hero, he nominated John Wilkes, the 18th-century radical parliamentarian, who stood for free speech and a free press.

On religion, he’s jokily laid-back. “I approve of Jesus. He seems a decent sort who liked his wine and the company of riff-raff.”

Hardly the words of a right-wing fundamentalist.

Farage’s reputation as a right-wing extremist derives mainly from his views on immigration, and his well-publicised loathing of the European Union.

That immigration – which has added half-a-million people a year to the British population over the past decade – needs to be “managed” is supported by most.

But it’s Farage’s language people can find offensive. He has spoken of “swarms” of migrants coming into Britain, as though humans were insects. Not long ago, he raised a storm by remarking that he’d been on a British train and nobody in the carriage was speaking English.

However, when Ukip took Tommy Robinson – the genuinely alt-right activist – on board, Nigel Farage cut his links with the party to set up (with Catherine Blaiklock) the Brexit Party, in February.

And that, in part, is the secret of Farage’s success with his new Brexit Party, now leading the British opinion polls – according to a recent YouGov survey – for the upcoming European elections. The Brexit Party has one, single point to get across: implement Brexit. If the Euro elections go ahead in Britain, all commentators say that the Brexit Party will do well.

The essential appeal of the Brexit Party is the simplicity of its message – Brexit.

Though the candidates range from the ex-Marxist Claire Fox (who’s from an Irish background) to the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ former Tory cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe, its single message is akin to the paint manufacturer Ronseal: “It does what it says on the tin.”

But it’s the Farage brand that drives it. And the brand is unmistakeable: fag in mouth, pint of beer in hand, clad in trademark Barbour coat – a gift to the cartoonists. All that blokey bonhomie appeals to the man in the pub. He’s also often photographed smiling, an interesting remark I’ve heard.

Farage is more complex than his persona indicates, Clare Foges, a former 10 Downing Street speech-writer, has written. Privately, he’s “reflective, non-patronising, direct … comfortable in his own skin.” And now that he has quit Ukip, probably freer in his own skin too.

He can be generous to opponents. He called Jean-Claude Juncker “a sociable cove … [with] a sense of humour”, but toxic and wrong-headed too, describing Barack Obama as “a deluded idiot” and pouring a heap of invective on the admittedly colourless Herman van Rompuy of the European Council.

He’s been criticised for his tax arrangements – he set up a family trust for his children – in the Isle of Man, which he admits was an error.

The man in the pub probably doesn’t care about the details. While critics of Brexit say that its “simplicity” is the problem that has bedevilled it, when it comes to branding a political message, it’s Nigel Farage’s strength.

Irish Independent

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