The echo chamber is the defining characteristic of this berserk and entertaining political age: squadrons of foam-flecked absolutists ranting to people who agree with them about everything and thus come to believe that their ludicrous view of the world is shared by everybody.
It is true, for example, of the Stalinist liberal Remainers — that tranche of about one third of the remain vote who will tell you proudly that they have never met anyone who voted leave and that therefore either nobody did vote leave — or they voted leave but we shouldn’t take any notice of them because they are worthless. The BBC, civil service and academia share this capacious chamber and one day soon, when I become the not wholly benevolent dictator of the United Kingdom, we shall have to bring the bulldozers in and demolish the whole edifice, let a little light into their closeted world, expose them to views which differ from their own.
But it is true, too, of many on the right, whether it be the growling Untermenschen who believe that Tommy Robinson is the victim of a Zog-inspired conspiracy, or the Leavers who still think we are certain to exit the EU with no deal (how, just how, you morons? Yes, I would prefer that we did. But it’s not going to happen, is it?).
Or indeed the jabbering preppy halfwits of the US alt-right, such as that Owen Jones mirror image Ben Shapiro: petulant, arrogant and magnificently ill-informed, and yet enveloped to such a degree by his adoring, intellectually-challenged supporters that he has, like Owen, come to lack any sense of self-awareness and perspective. And thus when challenged by a decent interviewer — instead of some Fox News sycophant or an ill-prepared airhead — he comes unstuck and turns into a nasty little self-regarding crosspatch, spitting feathers and contumely. Shapiro, again just like Owen, stormed off set when he didn’t like the questions put to him by Andrew Neil, who he decided was a commie.
Yeah, that would be right, Ben: Neil is a kind of Scottish Marcuse, dedicated to the overthrow of the entire capitalist system. Neil in his Che Guevara T-shirt and Leninist hat. You idiot, Shapiro.
And then there’s Nigel Farage. Now, I have an enormous respect for the chap and indeed like him personally. I think he also probably deserves the title of most important politician of the present century, and one of the ten most important of the past 75 years. He has chutzpah and charisma and a sharp wit, possesses an admirable contempt for the establishment and he is brave and decisive. I cannot think of a single individual in the past 50 years who could have created, out of nothing, a movement such as the Brexit party — which looks likely to sweep the board at the forthcoming European elections. Enoch Powell was perhaps the closest we’ve had, but he wholly lacked Farage’s common touch and ability to read the political climate.
One would not usually suggest that Farage inhabits an echo chamber: quite the reverse. His success has been built upon being finely attuned to the views of his political enemies. Until perhaps now. Because during his spat with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, I caught the distinct whiff of the echo chamber mentality, and the suspicion that hubris and the sudden success of his new party is beginning to insulate him from one or two inconvenient realities.
I had been intending to vote for his party on 23 May and despite growing misgivings probably will still do so — on the basis that there has been a grotesque betrayal of democracy. But the idea that the Brexit party is a proper political party (it has no structure or organisation) that will continue beyond 23 May worries me and makes me doubt about voting for it. To continue as a party would mean junking the single issue — Brexit. It would require a manifesto of policies which, given Nigel’s track record, I could not possibly support.
Farage is a long way from being a racist, but he is a down-the-line Thatcherite on economic policies. For those of you who think likewise, that’s fine, I suppose. But the Brexit party was conceived as being a howl of outrage from all sides against the liberal elite, which has thwarted our democratic decision to leave the European Union.
In asking all of us who feel genuinely transgressed to vote for it, then, Farage should have had the grace — and common sense — to accept that perhaps only a minority of that 17.4 million who voted Leave would sign up to the rest of his agenda. It seems to me wholly wrong that those of us who voted Leave for primarily, although not exclusively, ‘Lexit’ reasons should be enjoined to support his party as a kind of big tent of protest on the one hand, and then two weeks after those elections to see the party we voted for turn into something very different indeed for the Peterborough parliamentary by-election (and, it seems, beyond).
It is a sort of betrayal and perpetuates the wholly false notion, more usually promulgated by Remainers, that the Leave vote was a homogenous pro-Ukip bloc, united not simply in our aversion to the expansionist behaviour of the EU, but on everything else as well: right-wing economics, a disdain for such issues as climate change, no inclination to redistribute wealth between rich and poor or north and south.
Of course, several million who voted Leave will indeed sign up to much of the rest of his agenda. But many more millions will not. Including, I suspect, at the very least his Euro elections candidate Claire Fox. Nigel cannot have it both ways. It is either a big tent for us all, or it is a replica of Ukip. At the moment Farage is riding two horses and, in doing so, misleading his voter base.