Nigel Farage broke down in tears on TV the other day as he described how his children had been bullied just because their dad was Nigel Farage.
I do hope you find this as shocking and depressing as I do. The party Farage leads – UKIP – is not racist or extreme right or even particularly radical. Yet for years – and especially recently – it has been consistently smeared across the mainstream media as all those things and worse. This in turn has engendered a climate which has made it possible for Farage’s kids to be bullied at school and, in the case of his son, hounded by the media – not because of anything their dad has done, just because of what he is perceived as representing.
Farage rarely whinges about this, partly because he’s tough as old boots (having survived being run over by a car, testicular cancer, a plane crash and – the greatest indignity known to man – losing an election seat to John Bercow) and partly because he senses, probably correctly, that there are more votes to be won from jaunty indomitability than from playing the victim game.
But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel it, as he intimates in a a rare, sympathetic interview with Spiked Online’s Brendan O’Neill, in which he lays much of the blame at the door of the political Establishment’s lickspittle friends in the media.
‘I’ve watched over three years, as UKIP has grown, the incredulity from journalists, incapable of fathoming why UKIP’s doing so well — they’re literally incapable.’ The media are even more unable to read the public mood than politicians are, he says, because they’re so beholden to ‘the narrow tribalism’ of ‘binary politics’. Why do they stick to this binary-politics script? Because it brings them rewards, he says. ‘Peerages, knighthoods — such patronage is dished out to the press on a scale that no other private-sector industry gets. I know [senior politicians] get an OBE or a knighthood, and if you’re a soldier you have a very good chance. And we understand that, because these are public servants. Private-sector rewards, however, are few and far between — but not if you’re a newspaper editor.’ The media, all shades, are now part of the establishment, he says.
Farage’s diagnosis of an increasingly influential but utterly unworldly, public-allergic media feels true. The more that politics has become bereft of any serious ideas or big-thinking policy, and the more that politicians have become bereft of the means or know-how for speaking to the public directly, the more the media have moved in to fill a gap, becoming, increasingly, the facilitator of politics, and even the shaper of the political agenda. The media now act, says Farage, like the guardians of ‘what is considered right-thinking’, and this is why they hate him with such rash feeling — his thoughts, his ideas, his politics are, by their judgment, un-right thinking, and thus must be shouted, or better still shut, down.
‘All through the civilisation of human beings, people form establishments’, he says: ‘An interwoven network that actually has a very big generational context, in that it hands on down. And we are challenging the establishment — we are challenging their very thought; we are challenging the very basis upon which they exist and operate. And there is nobody in history who has taken on the establishment and has not received the kind of treatment I am getting.’
He even accuses the media of creating a hostile working environment for UKIP people. The party’s door-steppers regularly face harassment and even threats, he tells me — and ‘this sort of violence and intimidation is one of the untold stories of the hatred that certain sections of the media have whipped up. There is now a group of people out there who, to be fair, probably weren’t UKIP supporters anyway, and who have had their own prejudices reinforced by the media and have been convinced that UKIP is a dangerous organisation.’
All of this makes perfect sense to me, not only because of what I have personally seen of the way Farage in particular and UKIPers generally are traduced in the media, but also because it gels so perfectly with what is going on right now in the parallel world of the climate change debate. Farage is the political equivalent of those outlying scientists described by Thomas Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions: the ones whose reward for challenging the cosy consensus is to be vilified and excluded by an Establishment which dare not admit that it is wrong because that would be to lose its power, its money and its grip on the prevailing culture.
Farage makes this connection explicit when he talks about environmentalism:
The politics of environmentalism is utterly hostile to progress, he says. ‘If Natalie Bennett won the election, we’d all be living in caves’, he says with a chortle. ‘[This politics] is very regressive. There is nothing progressive in terms of the evolution of society or living standards in what these people stand for. And the whole thing is based on a fallacy: that our fossil fuels are going to run out and therefore we have to adapt the way we live. Actually, the shale-gas [revolution] has shown over the past decade that we are finding more and more of this stuff.’ As for the idea that we should stop digging for coal or shale or uranium and instead turn to renewable energy — ‘I think wind energy is the biggest collective economic insanity I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve never seen anything more stupid, more illogical, or more irrational.’
Here, Farage is kicking against one of the key planks of 21st-century consensus politics: the idea of planetary vulnerability and human hubris. And he gets massive flak for it. ‘[Climate change] is like a religion’, he says. ‘And you’re demonised if you question it. Ostracised completely. Johnny Ball. Think Of A Number. Brilliant man. He compares the amount of CO2 we produce in the whole atmosphere to a ping-pong ball in the Albert Hall, and he is completely ostracised for years. We’re almost back to Galileo. Whether it’s Galileo or Darwin, you challenge consensus, whether it’s in science, whether it’s in politics, and you are demonised for doing it.’ He remembers, in 2006, being on a Sunday morning TV show and being branded a ‘DENIER! DENIER!’ (his emphasis) after he raised issues with climate-change orthodoxy. ‘I thought I was attending the Salem witch trials. Quite extraordinary.’
For Johnny Ball and Galileo see also Nigel Farage.