I am at a ‘Turning Point UK’ dinner attended by several hundred people. Nigel Farage, bursting with smiles, handshakes and energy, enters the high ceilinged ballroom with its massive chandeliers, and the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Even though he is physically not particularly large, his presence is electrifying. Everyone wants to shake his hand. Everyone craves a few words. The Messiah has arrived.
Few people have this type of presence. Clinton had it, de Gaulle, but not Mrs Thatcher. The Queen’s office has it, but Elizabeth Windsor, the retiring, modest person who fills it, does not. Jordan Peterson has it, so did Einstein, Martin Luther King, Churchill and Mahatma Ghandi.
What are we to make of this amazingly charismatic showman with a smile wider than his face, oozing charm with that mellifluous voice? The first thing that strikes me is his immense energy. Whatever one thinks about Nigel, the one thing he is not is lazy. (He is also neither a moaner nor a detail man.) The energy is more intense than anything I have ever seen in any person in my entire life, including twenty-five-year olds working eighty hours a week on the trading floors of the New York stock exchange. This immense energy is especially not normal in someone who is 55 and who still smokes and drinks a fair amount. To get where Nigel has got against all the odds, against the entire establishment, Nigel needed to be very, very, different from the average successful person.
The Nigel performance goes on around the clock. He will call or text at one in the morning to casually announce he is driving back from Strasbourg, or he will be in New York doing a speech, arrive back off the flight and immediately go to an event in Devon. The next day he is in Pontefract, the day after in Scotland on some charity fundraising shoot, that evening in Stockport for a rally followed by breakfast in London.
I arrive in terrible weather at the start of the ‘Great Brexit Betrayal March’, a ten day march from Sunderland to London. Nigel is already there being mobbed by photographers and cameramen in such a scrum that someone nearly got crushed in the mud. The first day was along a coastal path for twenty gruelling, up-and-down-hill miles to Hartlepool. We all trekked along in squelching mud, driving rain and freezing wind.
Who walked faster than anyone else? Nigel. Not only was he miles ahead of everyone surrounded by press and journalists, but was talking as he walked. Most of the journalists lasted half a mile. The next day the Twitterati complained that Nigel was not walking all two hundred miles. It goes on, day after day. Nigel has been campaigning to leave the European union, relentlessly for twenty-five years.For this alone he does deserve a knighthood, the thing he desires above all.
I had the opportunity to watch him closely while I was setting up the Brexit Party and undertaking a gruelling two month administrative marathon, first dreaming up the name The Brexit Party, then trying to get it registered with an Electoral Commission who seemed determined to stop me. Where the electoral commission failed the Guardian, anxious to destroy the Brexit Party at its very roots, succeeded. Despite being married to a black man, I was denounced as racist for some tweets I wrote months before, a casualty of the left’s determination to frustrate the will of the common people. Within 24 hours I was a zombie, condemned to walk only in the political night.
As with most ‘Messiahs’ people either love Nigel or hate him, irrespective of the politics involved. He seems to be able to make people who did love and admire him intensely, hate him; many are ex-colleagues and people politically on the same ‘side’. A large band of these have been left behind in UKIP; some very bitter.
While publicly assured, privately he seems uncertain of himself and insecure. On one occasion, I said to Nigel, ‘I have got my first article in the Telegraph’. I was really pleased. I am not a professional journalist and had only started writing two years ago. Nigel said, ‘I got one in too’. This was a bizarre thing to say. Here is a worldwide political phenomenon, a man who has had hundreds of articles published and thousands of hours of television time, and he feels the need to say that to me. I am not a psychologist but I would take such a response to mean that perhaps Nigel is not as secure as one might think.
This trait has bad consequences and in the bigger picture has probably cost Nigel success politically. The best leaders in the world, Thatcher being an example, surrounded themselves with people brighter and better than themselves. ‘Always stand near the smartest person in the room.’ Nigel seems to do the opposite. He is scared of the best. He is frightened they will usurp his crown, which is quite ridiculous because he is in a league of his own and no one comes close to outshining Nigel. He has, time and again, got rid of good people who might compete against him. Which is why quite often elected MEPs were not the best candidates available. This certainly happened in UKIP where the best got placed so low down the list that they had no hope of being elected.
In private, the seductive, charming voice is still there most of the time. Occasionally it can change in a flash and you see a very different person indeed. Flashes of anger, flashes of total ruthlessness, flashes of spite. Everyone has this within them. It is not unique to Nigel. Just look at how people behave during nasty divorces. Many brilliant people, especially politicians, are extremely egotistical and many have a temper or can bully. Politics is a nasty game and it takes a certain type of person to succeed. But where Nigel is different, is the skill with which he can use his voice and words. Just a couple of words in a different tone and you know exactly that something is not liked and it is deadly.
Nigel is the master of brevity – he can deploy the Exocet missile of a single word, fired with pinpoint accuracy. Nigel called an ex-leader of UKIP, ‘employee’. A single-word description that summed up so much about this person’s organisational skills or lack of them and their low underling status.
And Nigel will drop one word into a conversation with you, in the midst of chatting about something completely different. He once said to me ‘X senior person and Y senior person are not as good as their CV’s either.’ And you are left thinking, am I the ‘either’? Did I hear what I thought I heard? I am an acute enough observer to think I was meant to hear whatever I thought I heard. Little put downs spread with honey.
Most people don’t do this. Most people will tell people things directly to their face, especially a brave person with great courage like Nigel. A woman with a close emotional bond once said to me, ‘Nigel does not like conflict. He avoids it at all cost.’
This is quite surprising given that Nigel has had a lifetime of conflict with political opponents. One would think a man brave enough to be assaulted, to be nearly killed, to be milk-shaked, to suffer tremendous personal abuse every day of his life, would be able to tell someone something that they do not want to hear in plain speech.
But Nigel does not tell people things directly. He seems to use a couple of close office people as hatchet men to do his deeds for him or instead acts like Sir Humphrey in ‘Yes Minister’: ‘maybe’, ‘in the fullness
of time’, ‘it is early days yet’. Words that cover up saying something unpleasant directly to their face the results of a decision that may have been made months ago.
Finally, people ask if I am ‘friends’ with Nigel. I do not think he really does friends. He has people he drinks with. He has ex-wives and children. He has people he parties with. He has political friends but he trusts few. He has been hurt too often before, to have friends. ‘Friends’ in politics are deadly.
Catherine Blaiklock founded and named the Brexit Party. She subsequently applied to join the Conservative Party but was turned down because of her connections with Farage and the Brexit Party. It’s plain that the Conservative Party is still a liberal democrat party.
This article appears in the current edition of the Salisbury Review
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