Over the Easter vacation I, like many of you, tuned in to the Europe debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg. I did this for two main reasons, the first being that it’s great to see politicians making their trade more about the battle of ideas than any of the media circus of posing we see so often from Westminster. The other reason for my interest was that, of the main party leaders, Nigel and Nick are the most appealing to me; the most genuine. I was one of those stricken with Cleggomania after the 2010 debates and I’ve had Farageophilia for quite some time now. Clegg ran as the alternative to the mainstream parties in 2010 and now that the Lib Dems have been sullied by their time in power UKIP have been moving in on the ‘protest vote’, with both parties during their respective campaigns using their leaders’ charisma to out-personality their opponents.
There is a crucial difference, however, which makes Nigel Farage’s popularity very dangerous: while an impressed floating voter siding with Nick Clegg at the last election would have found himself voting for a level-headed Lib Dem candidate of Clegg’s ilk, Nigel is by no means typical of his party. I think Nigel Farage is wonderful, he talks a great deal of sense on a wide range of issues, he is far from being just another politician and I would vote for him as my own MP in a heartbeat. But to like Nigel Farage and to like UKIP are by no means the same thing; they are a party united only by a common opinion on one issue, as opposed to a party linked by an ideology that unites them across several issues, such as the three main parties. This allows for many worrying candidates to be snuck in under the popularity of their leader, such as the councillor who blamed the recent floods on gay marriage.
Indeed, Nigel seems to be realising this himself and frequently needs to distance himself from ridiculous party activities and leaflets, such as the one Nick Clegg brought out at the BBC debate likening native Britons to Native Americans confined to reserves. The unfortunate thing is that this strain of dogmatic nationalism is given credibility by Nigel’s association with it. When the far right was fronted by Nick Griffin and the BNP, we could all see how dangerous it was and fortunately their time in the sun was short lived. Now that many of those people have been given the face of Nigel Farage their coming to power has become a frightening reality. A recent poll gives UKIP 15% of the vote, now that they have become not only the party of the conservative Eurosceptics but also the protest vote. This is surely due to Farage’s leadership; a man whom the electorate can see is a man of principles, with his feet firmly on the ground and is not just another career politician. He’s the chap they can see themselves having a pint with, but yet also the man who wiped the floor with Nick Clegg in debate.
If Nigel were emblematic of his party as a whole then none of this popularity would be a problem, but as it is when you slice UKIP down the middle you will find a very worrying interior. If history has taught us anything from last few decades it should be to beware the rise of the right wing during times of economic discontent. We now see that happening elsewhere in Europe such as the Golden Dawn in Greece and the Jobbik party in Hungary playing on popular dissatisfaction. Don’t let the same thing happen in this country. Nigel Farage is a politician on the ascent who is himself something I would like to see a lot more of in this country: someone prepared to talk about the issues in politics in a no frills, down to earth way and offer worthy solutions. Unfortunately he has lent his name to a party who doesn’t quite offer the same thing. UKIP is not a mistake that we, as an electorate should allow ourselves to make, no matter how much we may like Farage.
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