I’m not a politician. I’m nobody in particular. I’m just an actor and a writer, and I’m under no illusion that my opinions carry any more weight than anybody else’s. I do, however, cling to the naïve belief that my opinions carry no less weight than those of any other citizen and voter. Not that you’d always think so, mind you; not on the evidence of my Twitter feed. I’m sure you’d be amused, as I am, by quite how many people out there appear to believe that variants on “Shut the fuck up and get back in your Dalek” constitute a slam-dunk victory of political discourse, as if my occasional trips into the space-time vortex were enough to render me uniquely disqualified from having any intelligence or opinion at all. But that’s okay. I’m more than happy to be laughed at. Laughter is healthy. Laughter is good. Which brings us to Nigel Farage.
It’s easy to laugh at Mr Farage. He is, after all, laughable. We’ve all done quite a lot of laughing at him this year. I certainly have. A few months ago I offered up my own modest contribution to the gaiety of nations when I posted online a whimsical little thing called The UKIP Shipping Forecast, which seemed to strike a certain chord with those whose outlook, like mine, was beginning to be buffeted by the waves of misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, mendacity and all-round stupidity issuing forth from what Mr Farage would like us to perceive as the lunatic fringe of his party, but which, increasingly, appears to be anything but. Like most of us, I’ve long since lost count of how many UKIP members have got themselves into trouble over the last year for spouting various species of unpleasant twaddle – and, more to the point, how many of them haven’t.
Whenever he is confronted on any remotely controversial matter concerning himself or his party, Nigel Farage’s first and only resort has always been the most blitheringly obvious playground deflection tactic: “Well, what about the Conservatives? What about Labour? What about Brussels?” Those of us who would dearly love to hear Mr Farage, just for once, answer an interviewer’s question instead of batting it away with a hearty chortle and answering one of his own questions instead, have long become accustomed to this infantile gambit – not least during the inordinate number of appearances he has made in recent months on BBC One’s Question Time. What was so strikingly different about Farage’s car-crash of an interview last Friday with LBC’s James O’Brien was that finally – at long, long last – a journalist took the decision to stand up to Farage’s familiar “What about X, Y and Z?” technique and to counter it, doggedly, repeatedly, and with more than enough homework to back himself up, by asking: “No, Mr Farage. What about you?”
The result, as anyone who has seen or heard the interview will know (including, of course, those UKIP supporters who are still in denial about it), was meltdown. Panic. Desperate squirming. A clodhopping fandango of evasiveness, obfuscation, reverse-ferreting and meretricious flapdoodle. It must surely rank as one of the most disastrous political interviews ever aired. By rights it should have instantly torpedoed Farage’s credibility and career. It didn’t, of course. The UKIP faithful took to the internet and to the airwaves, accusing James O’Brien of talking too much and of not allowing Farage to get a word in edgeways. This is baloney. What O’Brien did – refreshingly, and it’s to be hoped that others will now follow his example – was simply refuse to allow Farage to perform his customary trick of dodging the question and steering the conversation elsewhere. O’Brien repeatedly gave Farage the opportunity to answer his questions. Farage repeatedly declined, and ducked, and slithered away – and when that didn’t work, he tried that other old trick of his, the matey guffaw. Unluckily for him, O’Brien’s terse response – “I’m delighted you’re so happy” – rather knocked the wind out of that one. But no, that’s not what happened, not according to the UKIP contingent: no, they insist, Mr Farage was barracked, and railroaded, and bullied.
Of course, the oldest trick in the bully’s handbook is to turn it all around and play the victim. There’s nothing UKIP likes more than to characterise itself as the plucky underdog, hounded and misrepresented by a media conspiracy and by some phantasmagorical “political class”, whatever that might mean. If I had a pound for every time a UKIP supporter labelled me a bully on Twitter in the wake of my avowedly silly Shipping Forecast skit, I’d be able to take you all out for a drink. But excuse me: the last time I checked, I wasn’t the one casting aspersions on Romanians, or expressing discomfort about people not speaking English on trains, or labelling other nations “uncivilised” – nor yet, as others within UKIP have done, blaming bad weather on marriage equality, or calling for pro-Europe politicians to be hanged, or musing in public about the efficacy or otherwise of shooting homosexuals. If we raise our voices in protest against these appalling remarks – or even if we just make fun of them – we are accused of misrepresentation, of taking things out of context, of being bullies. If it weren’t so patently daft, it’d be downright sinister – and sometimes, that’s precisely what it is. Have the temerity to post a spoof UKIP leaflet online, and you might even get a knock on the door from the police.
Unlike most of his online apologists, Farage himself has at least conceded that he performed badly in the LBC interview. In the wake of unprecedented criticism from other politicians, he admitted on Sunday that he regrets making his comments about Romanians, a confession rendered problematic by the fact that it was a little late in coming (Farage defended his remarks for 48 hours, until the chorus of disapproval prompted his volte-face), and by a baffling excuse which seems to pose more questions than it answers: apparently Farage made the contentious utterances because he was “completely tired out”. Crikey. How does that work? I don’t know about you, but when I’m completely tired out, I don’t involuntarily start spouting xenophobic drivel. I just look tired and yawn a lot, exactly like Farage didn’t in the LBC interview.
Yes, it’s easy to laugh at Nigel Farage. I certainly intend to carry on doing so, and I hope that you do too. But as we enjoy his stumblebum antics, let’s not lose sight of the fact that behind the affable buffoonery lies an ideology that is as cruel as it is ridiculous, as morally ugly and intellectually inadequate as it is preposterous, and as divisive and insidious as it is clownish and absurd. Nigel Farage is a laughable man – and that might just be his most dangerous weapon of all.