For me, by far the most surprising revelation in Martin Durkin’s documentary Nigel Farage: Who Are You? (Channel 4, Monday) was just how astonishingly vast, unwieldy, authoritarian, interfering, undemocratic, sclerotic, and sinister the European Union actually is.
As a Eurosceptic, I suppose I ought to have known this already. But the secret of the European Union, as one of Durkin’s talking heads noted, is the way it uses boredom as a weapon. Even those of us predisposed towards thinking ill of the EU are unwilling to apprise ourselves of the full, tedious details because our brains would explode at the sheer, grinding dullness of it all.
So it was a good move of Durkin’s to insist on following Farage outside his comfort zone (pubs, TV appearances, pubs), under the Channel (he prefers to drive, even though it takes much longer) and into the belly of the Beast at the European Parliament (one of them) in Strasbourg.
This is when it all came home to me — and, I hope, to many other viewers too. Here was a stupendously vast glass monolith (the kind tyrants build to flaunt their power and reach), evidently built with absolutely no expense spared, housing many thousands of very well-paid apparatchiks swarming like ants down labyrinthine passageways, all of it at our expense, none of it to any useful purpose whatsoever.
There was a bit of comedy business as Farage and Durkin contrived to get thoroughly lost, before sneaking illicitly into the parliamentary chamber whence they were ejected for filming without permission. But the underlying point was well made and helped me to understand something about Farage I’d never properly appreciated before. He means it.
By which I don’t mean I ever doubted the sincerity of his political opinions. Like me, he’s a disgruntled Thatcherite spitting blood that the Conservatives have largely abandoned what we would consider the only worthwhile variant of Conservatism. But that ‘charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’ insult he delivered to EU president Herman Van Rompuy, say. I’d always thought, hitherto, that this was just Farage angling to go viral on YouTube (which of course he did) and creating new material for his after-dinner speeches. And I now don’t think it was. This was a plain-talking bloke venting his entirely genuine frustration about an institution that sickens him to the core: a sham parliament in which pretend MPs talk ad nauseam about issues over which they have no control because all the actual decisions are made elsewhere by the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.
Durkin followed Farage to the village in Kent where he has lived his entire life and where, of course, he is known to all the regulars at his local. I think this is what Farage’s detractors don’t understand: he really is a very basic, quintessentially English middle-class chap. Likes a pint and a fag; likes Europe but not the EU; wants to be able to do what he wants to do without some statist busybody telling him it’s not allowed; is definitely not an intellectual.
At the same time, though, Farage is much more dangerously complicated than his fans will admit. I love him as a person and I respect his political courage, but, as I told Durkin in one of the interview segments they didn’t use, when supping with Farage you need to use a long spoon. He has the most terrible record of falling out with those close to him, possibly because of his insatiable urge always to be number one, which doesn’t augur well for Ukip should he use up all his nine lives.
I enjoyed the documentary mainly because it was one of the most sustained pieces of shameless libertarian-right-leaning agitprop I have ever seen on Channel 4. For example, what a wicked touch of Durkin’s it was to recruit as his two principal witnesses for the prosecution Neil Kinnock and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Kinnock emerged as an epically complacent, bloatedly sinecured apologist for EU waste and incompetence; Alibhai-Brown has the rare gift of making you fall passionately in love with whatever or whomsoever she criticises.
My worry, as someone who really wants Farage to succeed in his mission to reshape the politics of Britain, is the timing. It’s very much in the interests of Cameron’s Conservatives, right now, that everyone should have extremely high expectations of how well Ukip will perform in the European elections. So maybe a hatchet job would have been preferable.