Saturday, 21 March 2015


Although the Guardian subs have managed to balls up his final sentence in the print edition, Will Self writes:

I’m a great believer in the one-word school of literary criticism (founder: W Self), which holds that a work can be defined – and its author’s character discovered – by identifying a single notable word that recurs throughout the text.

To give you examples: in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, the word is “ecstasy” (actually, this holds true for pretty much his entire oeuvre), whereas in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the word is “curious”.

It’s true that, although these words do reveal quite a lot, they cannot fully encompass either Dostoevsky’s twisted religiosity or Carroll’s perverse philosophising.

However, when we come to Nigel Farage’s latest work, the one-word approach, I hope you’ll agree, yields significant dividends – for his preferred intensifier, exclamation and approbation, which recurs throughout the 320 skimpy pages of this commonplace little tome, is “extraordinary”.

Some people on the left, I realise, cleave to the view that Farage’s ascent to the national political stage is little short of extraordinary. I had dinner with one such last night, who assured me The Purple Revolution was part of a careful strategy of manipulation aimed at voters in Thanet, where Farage is standing for Ukip in the general election.

She drew my attention to the fact that Biteback, the book’s publisher, is run by Iain Dale, the influential rightwing blogger and former Tory wannabe, and further suggested that the entire Ukip advance over the past couple of years owes more to clever media manipulation than any real upsurge in nationalist feeling.

“Granted,” she said, “there’s always 10-15% of the electorate who are prepared to vote for a third party – but 30%? I don’t think so.”

This view of Farage and his beloved “Kippers” – which is how he styles them – as saloon-bar situationists is an oddly reassuring one. After all, if they owe their electoral gains to spreadable subterfuge, they can be outflanked by still smoother operators.

But this entire view of the contemporary British political process, wherein eligible sheep are herded into the polling booths by goatish campaigners, fails to account for the large-scale and dynamical changes – social, economic, technological, demographic – currently shifting the familiar two-party contours of our political landscape.

These changes are producing many bizarre phenomena, but one that could readily be anticipated is precisely the sort of twisted Poujadism the BNP followed by Ukip have benefited from.

The one-word school of criticism now comes into its own, breaking that single compound “extraordinary” down into its component parts: “extra” and “ordinary”.

For what I wish to convince you of – and what I believe The Purple Revolution amply confirms – is that Farage and Ukip, far from being extraordinary, are merely “extra-ordinary”.

By this I mean that they represent a longstanding and deep-seated element of British society, one that has gained extra salience because of material rather than ideological changes.

Of course, Farage himself would hardly be likely to admit he’s the largely passive beneficiary of such processes – clearly, the man is a stranger to any theoretical conception whatsoever, while utterly convinced of the efficacy of his own will.

However, even in his blokeish way, he does register the most important political fact of 2015, which is that in England and Wales, apart from a fearful urinous trickling to the Greens, any electoral losses by the Tories, Labour, the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru are likely to be Ukip gains.

The Purple Revolution is Farage’s attempt to place these anticipated gains within a framework. Towards the end of the book, he considers the possibility of his failing to gain a parliamentary seat:

“Was [sic] I supposed to brief Ukip policy from the Westminster Arms? No – if I fail to win South Thanet, it is curtains for me. I will have to step down.”

I see no reason to doubt his clunky words – Farage has a good record of standing down – but in the absence of any other spokesperson who can transcend David Cameron’s 2006 characterisation of Kippers as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, he’s making not just his career but the party’s future a hostage to his own electoral fortunes.

Still, Farage probably wouldn’t have it any other way, given The Purple Revolution paints him as a swashbuckling risk-taker who beerily belches in the face of life’s vicissitudes.

One of Farage’s plaints, reiterated here, is that the media don’t know how to pigeonhole him in social terms.

But by his own account, as the son and grandson of fairly low-level City stockbrokers, Farage, who went first to Dulwich College then to trade on the unglamorous Metals Exchange, is a scion – like Thatcher before him – of that strange class that straddles the awkward divide between the English petite and haute bourgeoisie.

Such in-betweeners either elocute and cultivate their way up the greasy pole; or, as in little Nigel’s case, slide gently down it and into the saloon bar. There’s a lot of boozing in The Purple Revolution, so much it might reasonably be called The Purple-Nosed Revolution.

Farage expatiates at length on his “12 to 12” lunches when he was in the City, after one of which – while he was self-confessedly in an alcoholic blackout – he was hit by a car on his way home to Orpington, and sustained injuries so bad he nearly lost his leg.

A lesser man than Nigel might have considered moderating his intake after such an incident, yet neither this nor the testicular cancer he was afflicted with at around the same time had that effect; rather, if he’s to be believed, both crises only made him more determined to wring every last drop of rancid bitter from the sodden bar towel of existence – oh, and they’re also opportunities in the book for him to critique the NHS (for failing to spot his cancerous left bollock), and praise it (for saving his leg – although he doesn’t specify which one).

Of course, there’s a fair amount of extempore politicking in this book, in between all the pints, gin and tonics, and bottles of red wine and champagne; however you don’t really need me to recount it, because you probably already know about the iniquities of Brussels, the snobbish closed-shop of Westminster, the brave stand of Reckless and Carswell against “perfectly beastly” Tories (a locution that brings purple-nosed Nigel close to red-faced Violet Elizabeth Bott), and the “ridiculous” Miliband.

You know that both he and his prime ministerial opponent are simply two sides of the same tarnished coin; you know that Kippers, far from being the aforementioned “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, are in fact staunch chaps and chapesses who only want a more democratic Britain, one that’s firmly in control of its own destiny.

Farage performs effectively on this front – he deftly dissociates himself from his gaffe-prone associates, usually putting their behaviour down to an inability to hold their liquor; and he works hard to distance himself from Marine Le Pen’s Front National and other European parties tainted by anti-semitism and fascism.

If there’s dog-whistling going on in The Purple Revolution, it isn’t of the high-pitched, barely audible sort.

True, Farage does do that annoying thing of scrupulously mentioning people’s nationalities, ethnicities and heritages as a sop to any accusations of prejudice, but really, anyone worried that a Ukip government – if such a fantastical thing were to arrive – would sneakily introduce racist legislation, needn’t dwell on it.

Because Farage, puffed-up little saloon-bar bore that he is, couldn’t be sneaky if he tried – remember: he’s “extra-ordinary”.

Extra-ordinary in that he, like so many other politicians, labours under the delusion he can “understand” and therefore “control” the febrile economy (his economic thinking, as evidenced here, is childishly simplistic); extra-ordinary in that he – like all politicians – also labours under the delusion that once his hands are on the levers of power it will be possible to pilot the ship of state smoothly away from the continental mainland.

But most of all, Farage is extra-ordinary in failing to understand Britain’s unique history of colonialism and its aftermath.

Even if we take him at his own devoid-of-prejudice estimation, only an extra-ordinary man could imagine for a second that contemporary Britain was now such a harmonious land that laws against racial discrimination were no longer necessary.

But there are a lot of extra-ordinary men and women in good old Blighty (from the Urdu bilayati meaning “foreign”) – always have been – and come May they could well be tripping to the polls and putting an “X” beside a Kipper candidate.

The situation we currently face, with the European Union looking fissiparous, our own constitutional settlement increasingly unstable, and currents of religious mania and nationalism coursing through a world already stressed by climate change, is indeed extraordinary – unfortunately, as we head once more unto the breach, all Ukip have in the vanguard is their extra-ordinary leader.

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