Nigel Farage’s return to the front line of British politics has seen his Brexit Party attracting thousands of people to rallies across the country.
The former UKIP leader’s anti-establishment tirades have been applauded by audiences seemingly unperturbed by recent reports of a lavish lifestyle funded by a £450,000 gift from insurance tycoon Arron Banks.
“[Farage] is being greeted like a revivalist preacher by large crowds. MPs who dismiss him and patronise are misguided,” says The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Hope. “They have to ask: why is he selling out halls across the country? Many of them won’t like the answer.”
The staunch Eurosceptic, who was accused of debasing political debate and stirring up anti-immigrant feeling, says he looks forward to seeing the Conservative vote “obliterated” in the European elections this week. Theresa May’s bedraggled ruling party is “struggling to hit double figures as Tory voters – and even officials – defect en masse to the Brexit party, at least for this week’s EU vote”, says The Financial Times.
It’s “an astonishing comeback for a man who bowed out of politics after the 2016 poll, as the UK Independence party, which he led three times, drifted towards the rightwing fringe of politics”, the newspaper adds.
But how did Farage become one of the few politicians to win the attention of voters?
‘A natural-born salesman’
As critics point out, Farage is “hardly the political outsider and avatar of the common man that he presents himself as”, says The New York Times’s Stephen Castle.
After leaving the famous private school Dulwich College in 1982, Farage decided to skip university, choosing instead to follow a similar path to his father and brother – his father Guy Justus Oscar Farage was a well-known stockbroker and his brother Andrew became a broker on the London Metal Exchange – and work in the City as a commodities trader.
In 1994, the future MP started his own business, Farage Futures. “He was a natural-born salesman,” Alex Heath, a fellow broker at the time, told the Financial Times in 2015. “Setting up on your own requires backing and it requires people who believe in you and Nigel is very good at getting people to believe in him.”
Indeed, the FT reports that Farage actually had a relatively modest career in the Square Mile. One of his metal broking companies ended up insolvent.
“This suggestion that he was a very wealthy man in the City is probably a bit of a misnomer,” another metals broker told the paper. “I don’t think he was anywhere near as successful as some people are portraying. He probably does better out of being an MEP,” he added.
‘Taking down the Establishment’
If Farage’s City career was modest, his subsequent political success can’t be disputed. From day one, his main goal was to get the UK out of the European Union. Despite supporting the Conservatives since school, he left the party after John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty. He became a founding member of UKIP in 1993.
After being made leader of UKIP in 2006, Farage, whose political hero is Enoch Powell, declared he wanted to “regain control” of the UK’s borders and immigration and has called for a points-based visa system and time-limited work permits. He has continued to talk of “taking down the Establishment” and positions himself as the “real voice of opposition”.
Things have moved on slightly, but not by much. “In 2016, the Brexit campaign largely focussed on external enemies; in 2019, Farage is on the hunt for the saboteurs closer to home”, says The New Yorker. One Brexit Party rally the magazine attended “booed the names of Tony Blair, Theresa May and Gary Lineker” while one of Farage’s candidates “railed against ‘that bloody lot in Westminster’ and people who ‘go to dinner parties’”.
Born in 1964, the sixties, and the Second World War, are Farage’s “dream time”, says The Oldie’s Harry Mount. The politician’s open-top, double-decker battle bus toured the country during the referendum to the tune of the 1963 war film, The Great Escape. The sixties was also the last decade before Britain joined the EEC in 1973.
“I quite see why lots of people loathe Farage but, for what it’s worth, compared to most politicians he’s surprisingly friendly,” Mount continues. Newspapers have claimed his beer-drinking pose is a gimmick, intended to make him appear down to earth, and Mount can also see the truth in that.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he drinks a lot less than he likes to let on: not just because no heavy drinker could survive his working hours, but also because, as Winston Churchill knew with the rumours of his epic drinking, he realises a drinker’s reputation boosts his appeal as an everyman – holding up the saloon bar, rather than jockeying for position on the sparkling water and the dawn jogs,” he writes.
Regardless of what comes next, the man US President Donald Trump dubbed “Mr. Brexit” freely admits that he’s already peaked.
“I remember thinking, the week before Christmas , about what had happened that year, and thinking the great secret with this is to savour it. To never even believe for one moment you could ever repeat it. Otherwise the rest of life will be a disappointment… Whatever I did in the future, it could not get any better than that,” he told Politico last year.
But psephologist Professor Matthew Goodwin tells the New York Times it would be unwise to underestimate Farage. “The story of the last five years,” he said, “is of nationalists and populists outperforming the others and mobilizing much more successfully than those trying to retain the status quo.”