Nigel Farage, the man who was at the centre of one the world’s most important political movements of the last decades, had just arrived in Dublin a couple of hours ago. He had come to Ireland to speak at a conference on the following day entitled “Irexit: Freedom to Prosper”.
Originally from Kent and now 53, Farage has been the bête noire of every Europhile across the continent for almost 30 years. He has spent his entire political career fighting and campaigning for one idea alone, believing that “the nation state was the correct building block within which people wanted to live, work, cooperate, pay their taxes to, and in extremis, risk their life to defend.”
Suzanne Moore in the Guardian once referred to the former UKIP leader, along with other politicians, as men with a “veneer of authenticity; an ability to cut through perceived liberal wisdom; and enormous privilege that is flaunted, rather than hidden”.
Such is the man who had decided to clear some time in his diary during his visit to Ireland and have a couple of pints with the Burkean Journal.
Our editorial staff had the chance to meet him last Friday at O’Donoghue’s. “It’s my favourite pub in Dublin,” he said, while sipping his Guinness and lighting a cigarette. “The people around here are always nice and you can’t get a better Guinness anywhere else.”
We were able to find a table and a couple of chairs to sit with him and begin our informal conversation with one of the most interesting political figures of the 21st century.
Just some minutes ago, Farage had finished giving a talk at Trinity College Dublin, where he was invited by The Hist society to speak on the topic of Anglo-Irish relations and the future of the European Union.
We wanted him to further comment into some of the issues he addressed while in Trinity and get a deeper insight into his political persona. The conversation ran smoothly, the pints were as good as expected, and more than once Farage would throw his head back and laugh in his naturally distinctive way.
Burkean: So you just gave quite a talk in Trinity College. What did you make of the student audience and the atmosphere there? We know you’ve spoken a couple of times in Oxford and other universities across Europe.
Farage: Yes, I’ve spoken in other universities all over the world, it was good to see the room full because that gives it more of a buzz. They behaved incredibly well. Far better than I thought they would. Good questions. More Goldman Sachs supporters than I would’ve expected, but I did enjoy teasing them with that. It was kind of what you expect of a university audience, the majority remarkably seemed to be pro-establishment. Quite extraordinary if you think about it. Traditionally, students were anti-establishment. In the 60’s, in the 1968 uprising with students all around Europe, it was all about having a voice, and having control of their lives.
Now it seems the majority of students want to give control of their lives to a bunch of old men in Brussels. I can’t work it out, but there you are. But I have not given up at all on the youth in Britain and Ireland. I think there are strong arguments to be made and I think one of the problems is that there are too few people now willing to go to universities to make the arguments. Frankly, what happened today was okay, but I’ve been to other universities where I’ve left thinking “I don’t need this”, because the sheer levels of abuse are such. And if people like me don’t want to speak to your age group, then democratic debate has a problem, doesn’t it?
That’s why I went so heavily on the no-platforming thing in universities or on television. And the British National Party comparison I gave of allowing Nick Griffin a platform on Question Time proves the point, because people were able to realise what a fool he was. But actually, if you have David Irving for example, the historian, who says that Auschwitz is all a myth, you may not approve of the opinion. But you should actually hear what he has to say, because there is a 99% chance that the more you hear it, the more you’ll be convinced it’s wrong.
I think people are quite capable of listening to an argument and making up their own minds. But if you start to categorise people as being virtuous or non-virtuous then you actually kill off debate completely. So that’s why I put such a heavy emphasis on the start of my speech on that whole question. And maybe, just maybe, I got a slightly more respectful audience as a result of doing that. That’s my guess. You may not like what I have to say, but be grown-up and listen to it. And then ask questions!
Burkean: Talking about being fed up with some places and why would you bother, what strikes us about you is your sense of humour. What is your secret there?
Farage: Life’s a farce! You’ve got to laugh at it. If you can’t find humour in life you may as well top yourself!
One of the problems with conservatism is that it has had too many proponents over the last few decades who have been too buttoned-up, too dull and have lacked humour. Conservatives have looked like a bunch of weirdos with dandruff early. But I think conservatism is changing. And I think what I’ve done, what Boris [Johnson] has done, and what Jacob [Rees Mogg] is now doing, has brought some real humanity into conservative debate. I really do believe that. And Trump, I mean well… we’re on a whole different chapter there.
Burkean: You’ve met him right, what is he like?
Farage: Oh yes I’ve met him a few times. What people forget about Trump is he’s a New Yorker. You know, if you speak to French people, generally rural France, people are very nice. They are very polite. They’ll stop the car and let you go. It’s all very civilised. You walk into a café and you order lunch and they say give us five minutes. They’ll even run down to the bakery for you, and they can’t do enough for you! But in Paris, God they’re awful! They’re rude and they’re what New Yorkers are like. New Yorkers are the brashest, most outspoken, most confrontational people I’ve met in the world. Trump is a New-Yorker, and the style is brash. If you punch Trump, he’ll punch you back five times. So a lot of this misconception about Trump is because of his style. I just wish, sometimes, that the President would in public, be a bit more like he is in private. In private he’s a good laugh! If you have dinner with him, you have a real laugh about things. It’s the only thing I wish we saw more of, because the previous American conservative hero was Ronnie Reagan. And Ronnie was able to make people smile. Ronny made people feel good about themselves, good about America, good about the concept of capitalism, good about the concept of success. In his own way Trump does, but we need a few more light moments with Trump. I think what you’ve seen, at Davos and at the State of the Union speech, is actually a Trump that has just gone down a couple of ratchets. It’s a more conversational Trump, and actually it’s working.
So humour is vital in everything you do in life. You’ve gotta have a laugh. You’ve gotta enjoy it! The political speaker who looks like he’s giving a eulogy at a funeral just doesn’t really work, does it?
Burkean: Your are quite aware of the no-platforming issue in the U.S., where conservative speakers go around and are derided, like in Berkeley. Do you think that it will ever be as bad in Europe?
Farage: Well I think we’re getting there. Just look at what the hate mob did to my life through 2013, 2014, and 2015. They’ve made my life unlivable. Literally unlivable. The threat of violence was against me non-stop. The whole time, everywhere I went, every minute of the day. I finished having to live with a cordon of bodyguards around me, 24/7 protection, and all of this from people on the left, who put labels against those they disagree with and turn them into figures of hate. So I think we’re not far away in many cases from that.
Burkean: We’re seeing more and more of this in Ireland, that the left keeps getting more extreme, as you said, labelling you as sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, and all of the ‘-ists’ they can think of. But they just get so extreme that the middle ground won’t take them that seriously.
Farage: I think in a sense, this new growth of extreme Marxist-Leninist ideology presents an opportunity to conservatism, because it is the means by which conservatives can appeal to middle ground people.
Burkean: Then what about the labels that are often thrown at conservatives? Should we try to answer those insults by saying we are anything but those things? And what do you do to get more conservative supporters?
Farage: The problem with focusing too much on labels is that you can spend your whole life apologising. I think you have to let people judge you by your actions and not by what other people say about you.
The first thing is to look after the base. Trump was all about doing that. Looking after the base, securing the base, and growing the base. Donald never apologises for any of this. And I don’t. Well actually, I have apologised over the years. I apologised to bank clerks once, in case I had upset them after the Van Rompuy speech. In cricketing terms, you’re either on the back foot defending or you’re on the front foot attacking, and we have to be on the front foot attacking. To some extent actually, we have to ignore the abuse.
Burkean: Do you think there is some confusion amongst conservatives themselves when they mix up conservative values with the aesthetics of being a “fuddy-duddy”?
Farage: Well, I was 18 in 1982 when the Thatcher revolution kicked in. Believe me, being a conservative, being a Thatcherite in the early-middle eighties was not fuddy-duddy! Being a Thatcherite was like “Hey! Let’s make some money and go night clubbing!” It really was! I look back on it, London in the 80’s, it was extraordinary. We were all Thatcherites, every bloody one of us. Because, what was it about? It was tax rates at levels that people found acceptable.
If I had been five years older I would have emigrated to New York. I wouldn’t have stayed in London. Why would I? Top rate income tax was 83%. Why would I, as a bright 20 year old, stay in London? That’s where socialism had taken us to. I mean Thatcher changed my life. In fact, because Thatcher got in, I didn’t go to university and went straight into the city. I said, “I’ve got to be there!” So yes, Thatcher did change my life.
There are arguments for genuine free market capitalism, for people to be able to better themselves, and for a society that is less based on class but more based on ability and effort. These are the arguments that conservatives have to make. And when conservatives do that, they win. I had an amazing dinner once with a man called John Howard, great hero of mine. John had won four general elections in Australia as a conservative leader, and John said something to me that I’ll never forget. “No conservative party in the Western world could win a majority in an election without the blue-collar support”. This is what Trump did brilliantly, and this is what Ronnie did brilliantly. In fact, Johny Major for all his faults, won that election in 1992 by appealing to lower middle class.
Burkean: And that played a huge role on the Brexit vote…
Farage: Brexit was all about that, absolutely! You always get this problem: Those with money don’t want change. Those with nice houses, kids in boarding schools, they say “Don’t bother me with arguments, we are happy.” But you have to appeal to strivers. If conservative politics is not about bettering the life of ordinary people, then what the hell is it bloody for? And you have to allow people to better themselves. But you can’t allow people to better themselves if you are living in an age of global corporatism, where the big multinationals and merchant banks effectively write their own rule book for their own industries to make the entry barriers for small and medium businesses too high of a hurdle. And as a result of that, you get less consumer choice, you get a market dominated by half a dozen big companies. But look, look around you, even Dublin, full of international chains on the high street. This is not improving consumer choice, and this is not improving consumer pricing. It’s actually crushing entrepreneurship and flair.
I am a supply sider, a Friedmanite, I am a Thatcherite, I am a Reaganite, I am a bit of a Powellite, and that’s the conservatism I understand. And I left the conservative party because it wasn’t conservative. They didn’t believe in these values so I fought them from outside.
Burkean: Did you say Powellite referring to Enoch Powell?
Farage: He is the most interesting post war conservative figure. He is far more interesting than Margaret. Margaret was like “Oh I agree with that and then she would get on a charger, get on a horse with a sword and go and try kill everybody.” That was what Margaret did and she did it very well. Powell was the great intellectual. His background was very modest. He had risen from the rank of private soldier to brigadier in World War II. Powell had become a professor of Greek at the University of Sydney. Powell had done these things. The trouble with mentioning his name is you always get it back drag to that speech [“Rivers of Blood”]. It was an ill conceived speech and it did great damage because it stopped immigration being a mainstream debate, until arguably I came along, and I dragged it back to being a mainstream debate. And bloody hell, they made it hard for me to do it. But on everything else, on government finances, on free market capitalism, and actually individual liberty, Powell was great. He voted for the abolition of homosexual illegality. He was a liberaliser. Powell was against the death penalty, you know, even though he had the mustache and was a World War II brigadier. But his reason to be against the death penalty was that he didn’t want the state to have that much power. And like Powell, I hate the state! Honestly, I am a laissez-faire economist as much as you possibly can be. Obviously, there needs to be some basic protections and rules, but if you overregulate, what happens is that no one gets protected anyway. That’s my observation of what I’ve seen in my life.
Burkean: If you don’t mind us asking more of a personal question, what is it that drives you on a day to day basis? Why do you do what you do?
Farage: Genius or madness. I am not sure…
I think that I was so convinced in the early 90’s that I was right. And people kept saying to me “how do you know you were right?” And I say “well I can’t explain it.” There were a lot of things in life I thought were right and they were wrong or I’ve changed my mind. But in this particular case, I said from 1990 onwards “I know I am right”. It was almost like, you know how some people find God or they find ‘whatever’, well this cause just gripped me, this belief that the nation state was the correct building block within which people wanted to live, work, cooperate, pay their taxes to, and in extremis, risk their life to defend, and I thought that any other structure was artificial.
And then when I started, in the end, sheer bloody mindedness. I said laughing, “I am gonna prove all of you wrong and I don’t care how long it takes.”
Burkean: You never set out yourself to be a politician right?
Farage: I still don’t regard myself as a politician in some ways. I am an agent for change. I am like a magnet. I am like a big human magnet. I drag the argument to a position that it wasn’t in before. I try to do that on a range of issues. But you have to be very brave to do it. I remember 2014, 5 weeks to go for the European elections, we’d just hit the lead in the poles, and you know, that’s when I learnt the only thing worse in life than being behind is being in front! Because when you are in front, your head is up here and every bastard has got a gun. And I remembered one Saturday morning when my lawyer called me and said “Nigel, don’t buy the newspapers, cancel all the TV interviews, go for a walk, and go to the park.” The press was that bad, and I must admit, I reached a point then where I stopped reading anything about me, stopped completely and didn’t read anything, because I think if I’d read it all, it might have damaged my self confidence.
Burkean: Do you still avoid The Guardian then?
Farage: Normally I do read it, but when they have all decided that you are public enemy number 1 and you have to be crushed because you pose a threat to the state, they can get pretty bloody. In 2014 for example, the Times did 21 front pages on me… accusing me of everything under the sun.
Burkean: That’s when you know you are doing something right isn’t?
Farage: Yes of course! I remember that in 2013 I got a lovely letter. This was the year when it first really started getting hot. The letter was from an old boy, whose writing was very spidery. It said something like “Dear Mr. Farage, I am 93 years old. During the war I was in bomber command and let me tell you, you only start taking flack when you’re getting near the target… so I think you are getting somewhere son.” And it’s true! Because if you are not a threat, they wouldn’t care about you. They wouldn’t bother to attack you.
The conversation was reaching an end and as we were about to leave, Farage briefly brought the topic of Ireland and the EU to the table, something of which he spoke about more at the Irexit event on the following day and in his talk at Trinity College, some hours before our interview. “Ireland’s history of economic sovereignty is about ten years,” he said, “because in the late 80’s, you joined the exchange rate mechanism.” We asked some last questions and the Taoiseach wasn’t able to escape these final remarks. “Though he shouldn’t be underestimated, he is a bit conflicted,” he said, and “he is not sure if his loyalty is to Dublin or Brussels. But he needs to do what is right for Ireland. Ireland first. In all these negotiations, he should be arguing like crazy for an accommodation. Ireland first.”
Having taken some last pictures with him, we said our goodbyes and told Mr. Farage to keep a close eye at the Burkean Journal in the years to come. Who knows? It might be that some day in the future, it will make him proud to have been interviewed by one of Ireland’s most influential political magazines.