The Incredible Sulk

Nigel Farage is all about entertainment — not difficult questions

Artillery Row

“Shall we talk about the election as well? What about that?” Nigel Farage’s voice on the radio was heavy with irritation. His recent years flitting between GB News and Fox has left him out of practice at dealing with interviewers who are less than fawning. An encounter with the BBC’s Mishal Husain had got his back up.

It’s not unusual to hear politicians complaining about interview questions. On Monday morning Kemi Badenoch had come out throwing punches at every journalist she met, getting less than three minutes into her broadcast round before taking umbrage at a remark from Sky’s Kay Burley, and later complaining that Times Radio had pronounced her surname wrong (tip: it’s “Badenoch”, never ever “Badenoch”). Her fans think her willingness to pick fights would make her a great leader of the opposition. Sketchwriters tend to support her candidacy, for self-interested reasons. 

But the politician’s complaint is usually that they’re being asked about trivialities when they want to talk about serious matters. Farage’s problem with Husain was that she was asking him to explain what his party would do if it won power. How dare she!

His grumpiness might have been understandable if her questions had been about a Reform candidate he’d never heard of who turned out to have sent a Bad Tweet in 2011. But she was asking Farage, a man who the previous evening had been shouting that this was an “immigration election”, about … immigration. Farage had been sighing and tutting his way through her questions for five minutes, with increasing irritation. If you listened very carefully, you could actually hear him rolling his eyes. 

“This is really getting rather silly, isn’t it?” he complained, as she asked him about the details of the things he is, as of Monday, standing for election on. He has the most amazing voice, mellowed by decades of booze and fags. In another universe, he’s the country’s most popular voiceover artist, the man selling your Marks & Spencer chocolate puddings, a unifying figure in a divided world. 

But on Tuesday morning, he was snippy. “This is a key election pledge,” Husain reminded him, after he’d lost his temper. “It certainly is,” Farage snarled, his voice dripping with loathing. As she walked him a little further through his own policy, he became sarcastic: “If it makes you happy, then that’s what we’ll do.” 

Despite the bonhomie he presents to the cameras, Farage has long been thin-skinned, excluding journalists from events if he objected to something they’d written. Later in Clacton he would be mobbed by crowds. That’s the kind of election he wants, not the sort where people ask him to explain his policies. 

Husain moved to Reform’s policy of processing asylum claims in British overseas territories. Which ones, she asked. “That would be up to us, wouldn’t it?” replied Farage. Again she pushed, very gently, about which actual overseas territories he had in mind. 

“I don’t think it’s terribly practical,” Farage said.

There was the tiniest pause as Husain absorbed what he’d said. “What, the policy you’ve put forward is not practical?”

“I haven’t put it forward.”

“Why is it on your website?” 

“I took over yesterday,” grumped the founder, controlling shareholder, and former Hon. President of Reform. “Give me more than 12 hours and I’ll sort a few things out.” Poor Richard Tice, leader of the party during the long  years when no one could be bothered to check what it believed, will be getting a flogging this evening. 

There are always complaints about the amount of coverage given to Farage, a man who has yet to be elected to Parliament, but he is the perfect politician for our media age. The dirty secret of British politics is that very few people are interested in actual policy, the tedious business of making things work. Policy is hard to report, especially for television, and it can be quite dull. It’s especially poorly suited to rolling news. 

What drives audiences is politics as a game: who’s up and who’s down. When Farage asked to talk about the election, that’s what he meant: “Tell us more about how you’re going to hurt the Tories, Nigel!” It’s entertainment, and Farage is a master entertainer: his announcement on Monday was timed for the start of a 24-hour period when both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer were going to be locked away in debate prep, allowing him to dominate the news media, posing with pints and addressing fans. 

Just don’t ask him what he’d do with power. He doesn’t like that.

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