The recent (and perhaps still current) furore surrounding UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom’s ‘Bongo Bongo Land‘ remarks seem to have caused something of a rift in the ranks of eurosceptics surrounding Richard North and Autonomous Mind.
In their view, Bloom’s remarks were a disastrous mistake. Richard North called him
“a racist oaf”
Autonomous Mind didn’t see the remarks as racist, but was almost equally scathing.
“So what of the comments themselves? Racist? No. Pathetic, boorish, arrogant, demeaning, antagonistic, needless and stupid? Absolutely. But then this story is not unexpected because Bloom has demonstrated these same character flaws, among others, many times before and he does it because he revels in courting controversy and thinks it plays well to UKIP’s core constituency. Making such comments also allow him to indulge his fetish for acting like an uneducated juvenile delinquent.”
It’s nothing new, however. They both regularly heap scorn on UKIP and Nigel Farage, even though they both share his wish for Britain to leave the EU.
Part of the scorn seems to grow from the fact that, for all its anti-European rhetoric, UKIP has yet explain exactly how Britain might leave the EU. They’re strong on rhetoric, short on policy.
But part of it is also personal animosity towards Nigel Farage, who they regularly describe as dictatorial and paranoid and worse. Autonomous Mind elaborates a little:
We want Farage to succeed for us. But all the evidence so far is that Farage is failing. He is putting long standing electoral self interest (the desire to split the Tories and lead one part of the resulting mess) before the cause he is supposed to be leading. In my view he is not the man for the job and UKIP would be performing much better with someone else in the role.
Agree with me, don’t agree with me. It’s completely up to you. But if you prefer facts and evidence to ‘gut feeling’ then consider this.
Despite this, many of their regular readers didn’t agree with them at all, and said as much in the comments.
The trouble, perhaps, is that the likes of Richard North and Autonomous Mind are intellectuals who do a lot of serious thinking about the EU and the nature of British politics, and Nigel Farage isn’t an intellectual at all. Nigel Farage is all gut feeling.
Nothing perhaps expressed that better than Nigel Farage’s arrival to speak at Stony Stratford two years ago against a proposed outdoor smoking ban. I was there, and listened to him speak. He didn’t offer any sort of deep analysis of the proposed ban, and why it was wrong. He was simply very strongly opposed to it (as we all were), and said as much.
Richard North wasn’t there. And I doubt that Autonomous Mind was there either. Richard North is an ex-smoker (although probably not an antismoker). For them things like smoking bans are of utterly trivial importance by comparison with the much more substantive matter of Britain’s EU membership. They really have no interest in smoking bans at all. And they perhaps have no interest because the politics of smoking bans is all about gut feelings (on both sides).
And yet it’s Nigel Farage who is the charismatic leader of UKIP, not Richard North or Autonomous Mind. And for all their biting criticism of Farage, they haven’t been one tenth as successful as he has in building a political movement. Putting it very bluntly, Nigel Farage is a far more successful practical politician than either Richard North or Autonomous Mind.
And I dare say that Nigel Farage is successful precisely because he expresses many people’s gut feelings about Europe and smoking bans and very much else. And if intellectuals like Richard North were to take over UKIP, all that would almost certainly stop, and UKIP would become just as uninspiring as the current Conservative or Labour parties, and its support would melt away.
The lesson, perhaps, is that politics is much more about gut feeling than cold reason. The political arena is more an emotional arena than a rational one. And a successful politician is more likely to be a eloquent orator than a chilly theorist – in almost exactly the same way as a successful musician is almost always someone who can inject feeling into his instrument, and not just hit all the right notes.
And Nigel Farage is one of those eloquent orators. Not many politicians are. And, as such, he stands head and shoulders above the competition. He can do something that they can’t do. And perhaps that’s why he is able to decide what he wants to do, rather than have other people decide for him. Which probably does actually mean that he’s a bit autocratic. He’s in a commanding position, after all.
And given the amount of animosity directed at him, even from people who are nominally on his side, perhaps he’s a bit paranoid too.
In the end, eloquence is not enough, of course. Richard North is right: there do need to be clear, well-thought-out policies.
But it’s probably better to start with eloquence and no policies, than with policies and no eloquence.