Fishing With Farage: An Informal Interview with UKIP's Non-Politician Leader
When I check on my eldest daughter after putting her to bed, I often find her under the duvet, damp with sweat. She is hiding from the monster beneath the bed, she tells me, closing her eyes tightly and hoping that it will go away. She reminds me of David Cameron.
He has his own monster to hide from. It’s big, purple, and it’s coming for his job.
Cameron’s problem is that he has nowhere left to hide. He can’t move any further left and he doesn’t want to go any further right. The ‘heir to Blair’ is stuck, and so he pretends that the problem doesn’t exist.
Most of the time he refers to UKIP as ‘that party’, just as Bill Clinton referred to Monica Lewinsky as ‘that woman’. The man is in denial.
The establishment that Farage rails against brought this on themselves. They have underestimated him for too long. In the early days of this parliament I asked a Lib Dem cabinet minister what he thought about the UKIP leader. “He’s very charming. But just wait until we get him into a television debate. He will crumble under the slightest bit of scrutiny.”
That went well, then.
I am invited along on a fishing trip with Nigel Farage. We meet at a pub called the Britannia. I remark on the strangeness of the place. The Romney marsh behind us is dotted with small wooden houses, set far apart from one another. It looks a bit like the end of the world.
“Incest is the game that the whole family can play around here,” he says. These incestuous marsh dwellers could be his constituents next year.
He has been coming to this part of the south coast since he was a boy. As a young city trader he would arrive at first light, with a pinstriped suit on beneath his waders and fish until it was time to head to the metal exchange.
Having set up our rods and a flimsy tent I asked him if he believes that there will be an EU referendum in the next parliament.
“Oh yes. There has to be. UKIP has done too well. Miliband will have to offer a referendum. In the meantime having a bunch of UKIP MPs in parliament would be a right laugh. Really good fun.”
It is a refreshingly honest statement of intent. Really good fun.
I can’t imagine Cameron, Miliband or Clegg standing on a shingle beach in horizontal rain, puffing on a fag, their fingers stained yellow with live bait. But this is what Farage does when he isn’t ruffling their feathers. It is one of many differences between him and them.
He has the kind of natural wit that Nick Clegg’s speechwriters desperately tried to emulate during the televised EU debate. Unlike them he is outrageous, candid to the point of recklessness, like a normal person in other words.
We talk for several hours. He tells me anecdotes from his days in the city. He tells me about the influence that Thatcher had on his politics, and does a worthy impression of her husband after a few brandies in Pall Mall. Or perhaps it was supposed to be Michael Caine.
We are discussing a mutual acquaintance, one of the many attractive young women in UKIP, and he tells me that he has instructed his staff not to leave him alone with her. “Come on Nigel, you’re fifty,” he says with a sheepish grin, as if we are schoolboys on the back of the bus, talking about a girl in the form above.
Farage is not really a politician, not a serious one anyway. He is a media personality. Without him his party is a rump. Despite this he still poses a serious threat to the Tories. He appeals to a part of the electorate that has been neglected for the best part of twenty years, and some of them will never go back.
After several hours there is a bag of dead whiting at our feet. Nigel takes a piss in the wind, in the general direction of France. “Best be off,” he says. “I’m on breakfast television tomorrow.”