Opinion

Nigel Farage is like poison – why is he still allowed to set the political agenda? 

All the Reform UK party needs to do is hire a room in Clacton and the Westminster lobby will book a train

A caricature of far-right politician Nigel Farage

Will Nigel Farage be denied a seat in the House of Commons for the eighth time? Image: DonkeyHotey

Picture the scene. Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is interviewed on Sky News in the first week of a general election campaign. Asked about the government’s half-baked plan to bring back National Service, Davey pivots to what he considers the real problem with young people. 

“We have a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values”, he declares. “In fact, loathe much of what we stand for. I think we see them on the streets of London every Saturday.” 

When the presenter Trevor Phillips picks up the Gaza protests reference and asks “are we talking about Muslims?”, Davey quietly replies: “We are.” He goes on to cite a dodgy poll to claim British Muslims support Hamas, and uses this to attack the government’s immigration policies: “Nobody in history has allowed more people in who are potentially really going to fight against British values than Mr Sunak.”

I think it’s fair to say that after such open bigotry and racist propaganda, Davey would be out of a job within hours. Yet three days after saying exactly this, the president of Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party), Nigel Farage, appeared on the BBC’s flagship current affairs show Question Time, having faced barely a squeak of reproach. Yesterday’s (3 June) announcement that, lo and behold, Farage has done a Putin-Medvedev switch with Richard Tice as Reform leader, and will stand in the general election after all, is being reported on like it’s the second coming. 

OK, now consider this. Reform and the Liberal Democrats are both polling at around 10 percent. In the local elections in May, the Lib Dems picked up more than 100 council seats, and the Green Party gained 74, to Reform’s paltry two. So why is it that Ed Davey has to literally throw himself into a river full of sewage to get media attention, while Farage and his deputies are barely out of the news, where they can freely spew their own toxic waste? 

It’s not as if Nigel Farage’s racist remarks are a surprise. Interviewers are too polite to mention it, but over the years Farage has warned of migrants with HIV using the NHS, Muslim rapists terrorising British (non-Muslim?) women, a “Romanian crime wave” in London, and said Jews form a “powerful lobby” in the US.

And still he gets everything his own way. The entire political and media class spent months waiting for Farage to declare his candidacy in the general election, only to leave Reform press conferences as if they had been stood up at the Prom. When he finally told them he wouldn’t stand after all – claiming that the election was too short notice! – you could almost hear the disappointment.

Now it turns out he does want the honour of running after all – what in journo-speak would normally be called an “U-turn”. Yet even today (4 June) he has the press eating out of his hand. All Reform needs to do is hire a room in Dover and the Westminster lobby will book a train. Some of them are already booking theirs to Clacton-on-Sea, the seaside town where he’s standing, and which is in all our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time. 

When a solitary voice at the BBC broke with the choir last week and referred to his “customary inflammatory language”, Farage demanded an apology – and got it! Thus the only true statement made about him in this election was considered off limits thanks to sacred BBC impartiality.

In this media paradox, which we might call the “bias of impartiality”, it’s not OK for a TV presenter to (correctly) call Farage’s language inflammatory, but it is OK for Farage to (falsely) suggest that British Muslims are a terrorist fifth column. Thus politicians are free to lie, but journalists may not tell the truth. 

This paradox was in full swing on Thursday’s Question Time, when chair Fiona Bruce (who defended his appearance in the name of hosting “a wide range of views”) neglected to mention that Farage is a journalist too, or rather that he plays one on GB News. Instead it was left to Farage to bring this up, inadvertently revealing that he already has a millionaire-funded media platform for his views.

With coverage like this, it’s little wonder Nigel Farage feels entitled to demand a “live TV debate on immigration” with the prime minister, adding nonsensically: “If he refuses, that will confirm the fact that he can’t stop the boats.”

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But what is the basis for this former city trader’s preposterous demands? Farage’s two great achievements in politics, according to him, are Brexit and the 2019 election of Boris Johnson. On these stellar victories for national self-harm and stupidity Farage dines out in London and Washington, where he is feited like a political savant. 

Now that the fan dance is over and we know he’s standing for parliament, Nigel Farage is finally being asked some good questions. In an exemplary interview this morning on the BBC’s Today Programme, Mishal Hussain challenged Farage on his immigration policies, to his obvious irritation. After all, his policies aren’t meant to be taken seriously, they’re meant to grab headlines and pressure the government. This week our valiant prime minister caved again to the xenophobes, with a pledge to cap legal immigration every year – another bet on public vice that deserves a crushing defeat on 4 July.  

Hussain also confronted Farage on his lying propaganda about British Muslims and terrorism, including his dodgy polls and attempts to blur this with immigration. And he was forced to concede that he can’t up sticks and campaign full-time for his friend Donald Trump in the US (another worthy cause!) if he’s elected MP for Clacton-on-Sea. It’s well worth a listen. 

Perhaps now interviewers will quiz Nigel Farage on his racist record, his calls to betray the people of Ukraine, his climate denial, his millionaire donors, and the damage his great Brexit crusade has done to the country he pretends to love. At the very least, it’s high time the British political and media class stopped treating Farage’s every burp as if it were breaking news. 

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