How will history remember Nigel Farage? I… I don’t know.
Nigel Farage, scourge of progress to some, man of the people to others, is, to say the least – and probably to not much revelation – one of the most divisive figures in British politics since the hay days of Enoch Powell. The Estuary Essex man, who when looking west can see the City’s skyscrapers of finance and power simmer in the foggy distance, who traverses roads and lives in towns ignored and underfunded is more likely than not to respect, admire and vote for Nigel Farage and his party. The university student, the comfortable parent, the London dweller, the one that has explored the world – they are more likely than not to despise him.
Nigel Farage represents a significant chunk of British society that some wish would just go away, a chunk some wish would return to apathy and live their lives in silence. He represents the part of society we all see at Christmas time in the shape of uncles and grandparents eager to provoke a reaction after a glass two many, who tut at the young and proclaim that this country is ‘going to the dogs’. He speaks for the society bound by flag and the traditional family, pessimistic for their future with nothing to lose, left behind by globalisation and the free market. There’s a reason some yearn for the past. Some easily discard this yearning as a cry for the whiter, prejudiced society they grew up in, and in some cases I think that is true, but in reality I think to a lot of these voters it’s a cry for their town and place of residence to have an industry again, an income again, a meaning again, an identity again.
Ironically enough, for a politician on the right he has by and large done more to engage and inflame the progressive politics of young people than any progressive politician has ever done. What inflames the passions of people more than hate? Probably nothing; everyone looks for a politician to hate, a figure or cause to rally against, and so much of the young have looked to Farage and UKIP.
The influence he has had on British politics should not go understated. For a man who has failed countless times to enter Westminster, for a leader of a party with just one Member of Parliament out of 650 his role in bringing about the EU referendum and a national dialogue focused on immigration and right wing rhetoric is significant.
History will probably remember him as one of Britain’s most popular populist leaders who has been capable of establishing a platform for socially conservative, sometimes xenophobic, views. His party commands a voter base of around one in ten that’s solidly white and working class with low incomes and views that other parties may need to tackle, confront or accept if they want any hope of ever winning elections. Farage, whether irreversibly or not – that remains to be seen – has changed British politics. He might not be Prime Minister or a man of Government, but he has for numerous times commanded the direction of travel of public debate from those who are in government and those who wield power. While many Conservative MPs will claim otherwise, it was pressure from him and his party that made the EU the issue it is today. It was Farage, too, that helped stoke fears and tensions and give prejudice the oxygen it sorely did not need. Making immigration an issue is one thing, but stigmatising migrants through the power of rhetoric and seemingly validating and apologising for racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia is another. Many will remember him for that ‘Breaking Point’ poster, the worst and lowest form of political campaigning he has ever engaged in, if you could even call it political campaigning: it was horrifically racist, pure and simple.