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Britain hates to love Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage will be relieved to escape the Westminster swamp for a while. Credit: ITV

November 20, 2023 - 9:45am

On Sunday night, the first episode of the new series of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! ended with the grudgingly inevitable announcement that Nigel Farage would be competing in a Bushtucker trial. The former Ukip leader has entered the tropical panopticon as this year’s supposed comedy villain, but has thus far taken everything in his stride. Even his fiercest opponents will be hard-pressed to claim that he isn’t made for this sort of thing.

Farage entered proceedings dressed as Michael Portillo, and hadn’t even made it to the celeb camp before his pink shirt and lime chinos had been desecrated in a mucky hunt for plastic tokens. He cheerily got on with the task, all while his fellow campmate, YouTuber Nella Rose, shrieked and jittered. On first meeting Rose, Farage greeted her by saying, “Ah, you’re the mega influencer”, a combination of words which he somehow managed to imbue with sincerity. 

That, of course, is Farage’s great skill, which could be called studied authenticity. A one-time public schoolboy and commodities trader, Nige nonetheless has an undeniable grassroots appeal. This isn’t fake authenticity, exactly — it’s not a routine like Boris Johnson’s, who deliberately ruffles his hair before making speeches and reaches for awkward pop culture references — but it is a quality which the Brexiteer has honed over three decades in the political arena, as well as through his increasingly regular appearances on television. 

In the jungle, Farage is joined by Britney Spears’s sister and the winner of Big Brother Series 11 but, weirdly, he fits in. Aside from one weak joke about Brexit, his campmates have welcomed him with bearhugs and back-claps. Compare his entrance with that of Matt Hancock last year, ostracised at first by the other celebrities for his many failings as health secretary during the pandemic. Hancock redeemed himself in a way, undergoing enough goo and humiliation to win back some respect, but Farage has an easier gig. 

This is because, while one would have had to spend some time last year searching for a Matt Hancock fan in the wild, Farage is loved at least as much as he is despised. At the Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of last month, he was more rapturously received than any Tory. The likes of Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps can’t hold a candle to the most powerful man on the British Right. Any testicle-chomping atonement will be less necessary than Hancock’s.

And therein lies an uncomfortable truth: showbiz, specifically ITV in this case, needs Farage more than he needs it, though his reported £1.5 million appearance fee won’t hurt. It is only Nigel among the lineup who can get the nation talking about this series. 

He has cocked a snook at Cameron, Coutts and Covid lockdown advocates, and emerged the winner each time. Nothing, from the sex scandals to the alleged racism, sticks. Where shame now stalks Boris Johnson (who was in talks to feature in this series) in his post-premiership shuffle, from his photo ops in Kyiv to his meditations on Ozempic and Barbie, Farage is apparently immune. Eating insects while Ant and Dec heckle you is only as undignified as you make it; Farage is enough of a telly performer to understand this, and to eventually leave the jungle with his reputation enhanced.

Columnists will continue to accuse him of reputation-washing, and of being single-handedly responsible for our degraded public discourse, but this kind of talk doesn’t do much to sway anyone who might somehow be on the fence about Farage. One contestant, explaining to Jamie Lynn Spears who all the Brits in camp were, described Farage as an “ex-politician”. This is factually true, but applies a finality to his political innings which he will surely disprove before too long. Either that, or he’ll be presenting the next series of Great British Railway Journeys.


is UnHerd’s Deputy Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Simon Neale
Simon Neale
7 months ago

I’m not too interested in his personality, and how that increases or detracts from his political popularity. I don’t know too many people like him, and don’t mix in those circles.
But I wish him well and will support him, simply because he is the best chance we have of becoming a free and proud nation. I’m pro-Brexit and anti increased immigration, and would vote for him to further those objectives.

Phil K
Phil K
7 months ago

I can’t say I agree with all his views but I admire him for his conviction and consistency. People love to hate him but I think that his support among so-called ‘ordinary’ people is a lot higher than many of the insipid celebrities who seek our money and clicks.

James Knight
James Knight
7 months ago

The establishment hates him because he dares to say what everyone thinks out loud.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago

Columnists will continue to accuse him … of being single-handedly responsible for our degraded public discourse

… which, of course, is not in any way a consequence of their own malpractice and manipulative dishonesty.

j watson
j watson
7 months ago

There is no doubt Farage has a skill with communication and connection many other politicians yearn for. It won’t surprise at all if he does ok in the Jungle – he’s not stupid and won’t have gone for it without thinking he can handle. And if Hancock can…
Farage will remain an attraction for many until he actually has to take responsibility for getting real stuff done. That may never happen and one suspects he well knows his Star might dim if ever faced with the reality of accountable power. But without doubt one of the ‘most’ if not ‘primary’ political influencers of last 10-15yrs.

Peter B
Peter B
7 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I think he’s one of those people who is a talented campaigner and opponent but doesn’t have the skills or inclination to do stuff like government. And there’s not really any requirement that he should. I suspect he knows his limitations here. He’s really an “influencer” – in the old-fashioned sense of the word.
There are people who want to be (and often are) political influencers packed into the media and no one complains that they push their agendas with no intention of ever taking responsibility for them. At least Farage does it openly and you can vote for or against him.
It will be interesting to see if someone with similar traits emerges on the left to give it a bit more energy and vitality. I’d quite like to see that. They’re all a bit too dull and worthy – and humourless – right now.

Geoff W
Geoff W
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

He doesn’t have the skills to do stuff like getting elected in a UK constituency, either.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Farage will remain an attraction for many until he actually has to take responsibility for getting real stuff done. 

Well, he could hardly do any worse than the people who’ve been ‘getting real stuff done’ since 1997, could he?

R Wright
R Wright
7 months ago

Once he’s eaten a few kangaroo testicles expect him to defy critics once again and take the limelight in politics once the Tories are obliterated.

R M
R M
7 months ago

I think Farage is a self-serving dilettante who is very wrong about Brexit, but I don’t hate him for it. Despite what some Remainers try to claim, membership of the EU is a political question and in a free society people have the right to argue peacefully for political goals even if I disagree with them and think they are an unserious bell-end.
Rather than Farage himself, what we should be concerned about is how he entered into the political discourse of the UK at all. In my view, populist figures like Farage emerge into a vacuum when mainstream politicians refuse to engage constructively in the concerns of a large enough number of the electorate. This is what happened over years in respect of two issues particularly: EU membership and immigration, which to a large extent became intertwined though they were and are not the same thing.
The refusal of politicians over decades to acknowledge there was (i) a serious deficit in the perceived democratic legitimacy of increased EU integration and (ii) popular unease among many affected communities at the rate and, in their view, uncontrolled nature of immigration were huge political errors which gave Farage’s flame the oxygen it needed.
This was compounded by the patronising high-handedness of politicians like Tony Blair telling the country that they weren’t going to get the referendum he promised because, well, he was a lot cleverer than them and didn’t think they needed one. Then when it eventually came to the Referendum the effective unofficial motto of the Remainer side was “If you don’t vote Remain then you’re thick and quite probably a massive racist as well.”
You can’t keep telling people that they shouldn’t think certain things, eventually you have to treat their concerns as legitimately held, even if wrong, and address them constructively. Otherwise they’ll look elsewhere for someone who they believe gets it.

Last edited 7 months ago by R M
Peter B
Peter B
7 months ago
Reply to  R M

I agree with most of what you say. But not your implication that people like Farage aren’t somehow fit or suitable to be involved in politics and that there’s something distasteful about “populists” (whatever that term really means). I think it’s mistaken to claim that people you don’t like being involved in politics is a sign of some systemic failure.
You’re safe in any event. He’s never going to be in power.

R M
R M
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

It’s not that I don’t like him. Politics is full of people I don’t like (to the extent that I can evaluate their public persona) but I recognise they are serious politicians.

I just don’t think he has any interest in politics beyond personal aggrandisement. That doesn’t stop him having a right to speak, of course.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
7 months ago

The thing is, the man has chutzpah, he knows who he is, he is genuinely what he appears to be. Such people are hard to embarrass or humiliate.

I totally oppose his politics but I wish we had someone a bit like him on our side. I’m sure he’ll do well in the jungle.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
7 months ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

I don’t think anybody like him would ever be on your side, assuming your side is the political left. With a few possible exceptions (I can’t think of any) the left is composed of hectoring, intolerant killjoys.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
7 months ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

You can’t have chutzpah and authenticity if the question ‘what is a woman’ ties you in knots, or if you think Hamas hostages were taken to hospital for medical treatment, or if you adhere to the maxim ‘me too, unless you’re a Jew’, or if you routinely construe anyone English North of Watford as racist, or if you claim to be a rational atheist but take the knee to BLM or stand up in Rotherham and say that Islam is a woman-friendly religion of peace. Your ‘side’ is corrupted by words and ordinary people see through it.

John Murray
John Murray
7 months ago

Honestly, a Nigel Farage travel show, be it a railway journeys thing or whatever, sounds highly watchable. He is one of those people who is very good at television. Have him do a tour of former British imperial possessions rigged out in best pristine white togs and kepi. Writes itself.

Peter Stephenson
Peter Stephenson
7 months ago

Arise, Saint Nigel!

William Cameron
William Cameron
7 months ago

Farage is suffering from the modern UK issue of people only having two classifications. Virtuous (vaguely left) or Facist. The first are the metropolitans in their bubble. The second describes people who are law abiding perfectly normal people who are not into “woke” “trans” etc and who oppose large scale immigration.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
7 months ago

Shame stalks Boris? Don’t be a plonker, Rob-ney!

Sco Sh
Sco Sh
7 months ago

the opening episode had 2 million fewer viewers than last year. NF has lost yet another popular vote.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
7 months ago
Reply to  Sco Sh

Another simplistic utterance from someone hiding behind anonymity … yawn.