Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nigel Farage and me

UKIP-leader-Nigel-Farage-012

A few years ago, before he became “famous”, I had dinner with Nigel Farage. A mutual friend, also called “Nigel”, invited me to join the two of them after we had all been at Lord’s cricket ground for the day. We met at a Malaysian restaurant in West Hampstead and as far as I can recall it was a pleasant evening. The two Nigels, like me, enjoyed the spicy food and Tiger Beer and that and a bit of cricket chat (mainly), was the purpose of the evening.

Farage is almost a generation younger than me – he was born in 1964, the year I left school and started work. But we have similar backgrounds. I grew up in the same part of West Kent as Farage and visited the same pubs in Downe Village (his home) and elsewhere. My father was a member of “West Kent Golf Club” (WKGC)  as is Farage. And I was at Farage’s school Dulwich College for three years in the 1950s. I know the world he comes from well.

The 19th hole at WKGC and the watering holes around the area were not known for their liberal debate. The house journal for the men was the “Daily Telegraph” and for the women the “Daily Mail”. My father, not a particularly political man, was at the heart of this for thirty years. They were, of course, all Conservatives in every way. Socially illiberal. Hangers and Floggers. Vehemently ant-Socialist. Their attitude to the working-class was generally either patronising (“Salt of the Earth”) or hostile (“Union trouble-makers”). They were against any social or what they saw as “intrusive” legislation. Especially if a car was involved. So Barbara Castle was a pariah for cracking down on drink driving and introducing the breathalyser and for making seat-belts compulsory. You get the picture. I don't recall my parents or their Golf Club friends as being particularly racist – black or Asian faces were rare in that part of Kent. But their world was a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant world and Catholics and Jews were certainly looked at with suspicion.

WKGC is a hilly course and you drive down a big hill and cross a small valley before climbing up to the Clubhouse. One day I was in my father’s car en route to the Club. I noticed at the bottom of the hill a wooden building with a corrugated roof. A few golfers were standing outside it. I asked my Dad what it was. “Oh that's the Artisans” he said. He explained that this group comprised working-class men who would not be able to “afford” proper membership of the Club. They had their own modest facilities, teed off from the 10th hole nearby. And were banned from the main clubhouse.

It does not follow that if you grew up in this world of privilege and narrowness then you developed political opinions like those of Farage. But it is fair to say that the majority did especially if, like Farage, you did not go to University but went straight into the City. Your mind certainly won’t be broadened by your friends in Downe’s “George and Dragon” ! The Conservative Party was the natural home for those politically active in West Kent. In the main they had political opinions not dissimilar to that of UKIP today – they were Right-Wing Conservatives who leaned far more towards Enoch Powell than they did to Edward Heath. Needless to say Margaret Thatcher was their heroine.

My dinner with the two Nigels was, as I have said, a pleasant evening. I don't recall Farage being particularly mad or outspoken. Although my politics are of the Left many of my friends and acquaintances are of the Right so there was nothing especially unusual about hearing a few traditionally rightist views from Nigel Farage . I’d been hearing similar for decades in my own family! I didn't take Farage seriously because he didn't seem to take himself seriously – it was well-lubricated pub banter and it seemed harmless.

The problem with Nigel Farage is not his unsavoury views about most things – you’ll hear similar all the time in the circles from which he comes. The problem, of course, is that Farage has had for some time platforms from which to spout his nonsense. My Dad and his friends didn't stand on soapboxes – they mumbled bigotry into their pint glasses and moved on to talk about rugby or cricket. Nobody would have elected them to anything more demanding than the Golf Club committee.

UKIP’s natural home is the members’ bar of West Kent Golf Club and its like across southern England. Sitting on their high stools the members would no doubt refer to “Good Old Nigel” as the “Sort of Chap who talks a lot of sense”. Dissenters (there would be some) would shrug their shoulders and smile – as I did over dinner. They might say that it was all “harmless” and that nobody was going to give Farage the keys to anything that really mattered. But now he has them, the keys to Britain's immediate political future. In Iain Dale’s Top 100 people of the Right he is at Number one – ahead of David Cameron. We may comfort ourselves that you can never fool all the people all of the time, but then you don’t need to. Dictators only get 100% of the votes when they gain power - not on their journey there.

There is no intellectual substance to UKIP’s policies – but there doesn't need to be. The support from the Golf Club bores is solid and secure. And now Farage is making serious inroads into the “Artisan” vote as well. To wander down the hill and knock on the door of the wooden building with the corrugated roof smiling your Cheshire Cat smile and pandering to the prejudices  of the people there is all in a days work for our Nigel.

You've been warned.

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