In short, the true momentum behind both UKIP’s rise in the polls and the rising temperatures it has provoked in pretty much every elite circle in Britain is not the charms or coherent ideologies of Farage himself. (In fact, many take great pleasure in pointing out that most UKIP supporters don’t know UKIP policy on any issue beyond immigration and the EU.) Rather, it is the political class’s alienation from the public, and its existential insecurities, that have propelled UKIP to the top of the political agenda. The aloofness of the old political machine, its growing distance from and contempt for the voters, its view of the public as a blob to be re-educated and made physically fit rather than as sentient beings to be politically engaged, is what has boosted public support for a party like UKIP that seems willing to speak to, and maybe even for, so-called ordinary people. And it is the out-of-touch political class’s subsequent panic at UKIP’s rise, its fear that the success of this party might spell doom for its safe, samey, middle-ground ilk, which leads it to aim its every ideological, political and media gun at Farage, having the unwitting effect of making him both more widely talked-about and possibly even more popular. It is the political class’s crisis of legitimacy and vision which both created and then inflamed the UKIP phenomenon.
I’m puzzled though that, for everything that’s been thrown at Farage and UKIP over the past few weeks, one charge that seems to have been missing is that UKIP wants to relax the smoking ban, and allow smoking rooms in pubs.
How terrible! Why haven’t there been awful shrieks of dismay from ASH and CRUK and the BMA and RCP? Why has no one been saying that this would be a terrible backward step for public health, that would bring a tidal wave of smoking-related deaths? Why haven’t blubbering mothers, clutching toddlers, been standing up and accusing Nigel Farage of Wanting to Kill Our Children?
And anyway, wasn’t the smoking ban a Great Success from Day One? Doesn’t everybody love it? Aren’t even the 70% of smokers who always seem to want to quit smoking (but never actually do) delighted with it? How dare Farage and UKIP even dream of rolling back a measure that is on a par with the abolition of slavery, or the emancipation of women, or the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo?
Or is it instead that the smoking ban epitomises the utter contempt for voters by the old, aloof political machine, and is the most perfect example of its view of the public as “a blob to be re-educated and made physically fit”? And so they dare not mention it?
Even Nigel Farage hardly ever seems to mention it. But does he need to, when his beer-and-cigarette image mutely expresses his own point of view for him? For what else does anyone think of but a cheerful man with a pint of beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other?