Ayesha Hazarika: Why I felt like giving Nigel Farage a Glasgow kiss

Safe to say it wasn't exactly a meeting of minds. If we had been on (Britain) First Dates, we wouldn't be seeing each other again. Even as friends.

Nigel Farage has millions of supporters who buy into his hate, says Ayesha Hazarika. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There was pleasant chit chat in the green room beforehand about how many anti-EU stories we could squeeze in and everyone was very taken with him. There were selfies with BBC staff and a bit of a buzz you get when a ‘seleb’ is in the joint. And I guess that’s what he is, a media personality. But he is also a very important, powerful and indeed dangerous political and social influencer. It is fine (well it’s not actually) to treat him like a star off-screen, but not when the cameras are rolling. That’s where I came in.

There was a lot of anger on social media directed at the Marr show for giving Farage a platform. The BBC’s flagship Today Programme had also recently faced criticism for interviewing Ann Coulter, the American far-right commentator who first tweeted those offensive, Islamaphobic, fake Britain First films which Donald Trump then went on to retweet. At the time, I tweeted something along the lines of it was amazing how much air time global racists get compared to the people and communities they attack.

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The Ann Coulters, Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farages of this world are never short of media platforms from which to spew their poison, designed to prey on people’s fear and ignorance and stoke up hatred and division. But you hardly ever see people from other communities represented – like moderate, integrated Muslim women and men who would slay their stupid illiterate arguments.

As usual, Farage mounted a pathetic, shameful, slimy defence of Trump. Apparently, The Donald doesn’t know what he tweets. In which case, he’s too stupid to the be the President of the United States so let’s get those tiny digits away from the nuclear codes. I think he knew exactly what he was tweeting. You don’t retweet video content on Twitter unless you’ve had a wee peek and like what you saw. Get real.

In a way, why should we be surprised? This is a man who was very clear with the world about what to expect when he ran for the Presidency. Misogyny, racism, ignorance and prejudice. You can’t say he wasn’t up front with us. So, he knew what he was tweeting all right. The fact that he thought it was okay to promote a disgusting organisation like Britain First tells you everything you need to know about his values.

As Jo Cox lay dying, the scumbag who executed her shouted out “Britain First”. Anyone with half a brain learnt about the organisation in the aftermath of that murder which made news around the world. Friends who had rather naively wanted to give Trump the benefit of the doubt felt his actions were more than a step too far. Or should that be a goose-step? But not our Nigel.

Even Trump super-fan Piers Morgan condemned Trump, but not Nigel. Sparks flew on the sofa at this point. He probably wanted to punch me and I was ready to give him a Glasgow kiss. But, after much heated debate on both sides, it was all over, ending on the best piece of satire I’ve ever heard as Farage pronounced: “No one has done more to combat the far right than me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, irony is officially dead. Farage stormed off with his aide and suddenly my phone lit up. There were many messages of support. There was a real feeling of anger that yet again, a man with no official position in British politics was allowed to have so much air time. Many people were glad that I had challenged him robustly and that he hadn’t been given the usual easy time. But then came the hate and boy did it come thick and fast. Apparently, I am very rude. How dare I have the temerity to challenge The Nigel. I somehow forgot I was supposed to just sit there in reverential silence and accept all the nonsense he was verbally vomiting. Sorry about that.

And apparently, Nigel is very shy and retiring. Poor wee snowflake. My favourite comment was from UKIP MEP Gerard Batten who called me a “gobby woman”. You’ll recall UKIP are the party who called women “sluts” because they never cleaned behind the fridge. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud.

Then came the really nasty stuff. I’ve never had so many messages from so many “proud ENGLISHMEN” so big and ‘bwave’ they hide behind a picture of a suit of armour and a fake name. I’ve never had so much racist abuse as I’ve had in the last three days. It’s been quite an eye-opener. I’ve been called the ‘C’ word – no, not Conservative which makes a change – and told to pack my bags and go home, but sadly my folks have moved from Coatbridge.

Now all this abuse is no fun and can wreck a girl’s complexion but, in a way, it’s been a timely and powerful reminder of who I am and what I stand for. We are living in dangerous, fragile times and values matter more than they ever have. It’s easy to argue that everyone should be able to say anything they want, that there’s no such thing as offence, and that the far-right speak for the majority. They don’t. But their powerful rhetoric does work. A supporter of Britain First who became fixated with Muslims has just been sentenced for driving at the owner of a curry house in Harrow, north London, after giving the Nazi salute. Hate crimes are up by 29 per cent. Words matter.

That is why we have to be vigilant. Trump is having a good week. He has got his Muslim ban through the courts as well as a major bill to give tax cuts to the rich. It looks like he will visit the UK in February as our Prime Minister is too weak to say no because we are so desperate for a post-Brexit trade deal. It gives the expression “taking the knee” a whole new political meaning. Trump probably benefited from the row about those tweets because, just as Farage has millions of supporters who buy into his hate, the same is true of Trump. His rustbelt base probably loved it.

I would rather Trump doesn’t come and will be out on the streets making my views heard along with thousands of others. That’s a hard border we could all get behind. I’m hoping a flying visit means air traffic control will keep him circling the skies then have him turn around again.

But protests are not enough. We have to fight harder against the intolerance and hatred that is now commonplace. We have to stand up for our values of decency. I’m glad that Nicola Sturgeon has been so outspoken against Trump and his visit. We have to be more vocal. And when it comes to giving the far-right a platform, I’m not for censorship. Closing down discussion on their issues – from immigration to integration – doesn’t work. If you’re going to give them some airtime, make sure you challenge them, be aggressive and determined as they are, call out their lies and make sure you have a proper “gobby woman” to take them on. They really don’t like it up ’em.