There was a comedy programme about Nigel Farage on the BBC this week, entitled Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back. Purporting to be a Swiftian satire about how Ukip’s former leader would cope with life beyond the political fray, it was, as usual, a case of the corporation sneering at a man who has a decent claim to being the most successful British politician of the modern age and, by extension, sneering at the four million or so Ukip voters and indeed the 52 per cent of the population who voted Leave. In other words, a very large proportion of the BBC’s licence payers, whom the BBC resolutely despises.
All of this would have been fine, though, had the programme been even mildly amusing. But it wasn’t. It was predictable, lumpen drivel which managed to offend even the half-witted lefties of the Guardian. ‘The premise is obviously to recast Farage as a lovable buffoon, but why anybody would want to humanise the poster boy for one of the most heinous ideologies in living memory isn’t quite so clear,’ some shrill hag opined. A shrill hag who ought to check out a few more heinous ideologies before opening her idiotic trap, I would suggest.
The main point, though, is that Ukip, in its current state, doesn’t need anyone to satirise it. It can do that job all by itself. Presented with an open goal by Labour’s abdication from the task of representing anyone beyond Upper Street, London N1, and its own obvious success in the referendum, it has gleefully hoofed the ball clear of the stadium, with the net gaping, with the unbounded confidence of a village idiot. And it keeps doing so, over and over again.
For a start, they all seem to hate one another — and with a commendable venom which, entertainingly enough, sometimes spills over into violence. The party’s only elected MP, Douglas Carswell, was described by Ukip’s chief donor, Arron Banks, as being ‘borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in’. One of the front-runners for the post of leader, Raheem Kassam, described a rival, Suzanne Evans, as being ‘a saggy, wrinkly 50-year-old ginger bird’ — which was not inaccurate, but scarcely terribly chivalrous. He also expressed a wish that she would ‘fuck off for good’.
However, it is Raheem — British editor of the right-wing Breitbart website and possessing Arron Banks’s imprimatur — who has fucked off. He has pulled out, complaining about press intrusion while also identifying that his power base was too narrow to secure the post. He is probably right about that — but it is a shame, because he’s very likeable in a roguish kind of way and his ur-laddish rudeness would not deter many voters. Indeed, he might have been able to increase the number of BME British people prepared to vote for the party. From seven to about 19.
The leadership election is taking place because the previous leader, Diane James, resigned after only 18 days in the job. Diane wished the party to focus its attention on mental health — a reasonable enough pre-occupation if you are the leader of this lot. But she was gone very quickly, citing the pressure. Then the most agreeable candidate, Steven Woolfe, was hospitalised after a bust-up with a pugilistic Ukip MEP called Mike Hookem, whom he had apparently offered outside for a scrap, as you do. That was the end of Mr Woolfe, who has described Ukip as ‘ungovernable’ and has consequently left the party. He had been egregiously stitched up in the previous leadership election and not allowed to stand because his application form arrived 17 minutes too late.
And so what are they left with? Well, there is the wrinkly ginger-haired bird, Suzanne Evans — a competent speaker who appeals to the disaffected Tory voters, who we will come to later. And there is the genuinely strange human being that is Douglas Carswell — basically a libertarian and capable of estranging the northern Ukip vote in the manner of a sort of right-wing Jeremy Corbyn. There is Peter Whittle, who is clever and mild of manner but is currently trailing on just 1 per cent of the vote. And then there is Paul Nuttall, the current front-runner and easily the most convincing of the remaining tranche of candidates. A state-educated Scouser and a first-rate performer in the TV studios, Nuttall certainly has the ability to attract those northern voters and he at least grasps that the party has not, of late, presented itself in the best possible light.
But what an opportunity the party has — paradoxically, you might think, a better one than before the referendum. First, there are the vast swaths of thoroughly alienated former Labour voters from the Scottish border down to the M25: Ukip lies in second place in 44 Labour constituencies, mainly in the north, and the migration away from Corbyn’s deluded and inept, divided and fractious cabal may have been seriously underestimated by the opinion pollsters, who these days count ‘don’t know’ responses under the party they last voted for, which seems to me wishful thinking, if you’re pro-Labour. We already know that more than 50 per cent of Labour voters who chose Leave on 23 June will not vote for the party again. The north — and especially the north-east, but also the East Midlands and Essex man — needs a party to represent it. These are the people at whom Theresa May has already cocked her hat, but very many will not vote Tory for visceral reasons.
And then there are the disaffected Tories. It has long been assumed that Ukip had already hoovered up the votes of those anti-EU Tories, largely in the south, and that there were no more to be gleaned. But just watch as the havering and infighting continues about the triggering of Article 50 and the suspicion rises that the Leavers are being sold out. And watch as immigration continues to rise. A competent Ukip would make a killing.