Nigel Farage has become one of the most influential politicians of our times by persuading a substantial number of voters that he is on their side against the “establishment”.
The former Ukip leader, whose new Brexit Party is expected to do very well in next week’s elections to the European Parliament, styles himself a man of the people, a straight-talker willing to say what mainstream politicians will not.
That Mr Farage, a privately educated former city trader, epitomises the sort of “elites” that he insists he stands against is, it seems, neither here nor there to those who lap up his cocktail of cheap populism and dark dog-whistling.
The truth is that Mr Farage peddles messages which rely on fear to strike home. His acolytes might regard him as a statesman but he is nothing of the sorts.
Anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that Mr Farage is a straight-talking man of honour is directed towards an interview on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show on BBC One. Asked, legitimately, about a series of controversial remarks he has made in the past, Mr Farage lost his temper. It was deeply revealing.
Rather than addressing comments in which, among other things, he spoke of his admiration for Vladimir Putin’s political skills and called from a ban on HIV sufferers entering the UK, Mr Farage launched a furious attack on the BBC. What, he demanded to know, was wrong with the BBC?
Yesterday morning, there was nothing wrong with it at all.
Mr Farage has played a key role in bringing the UK to where it now stands, confused and angry and on the brink of leaving the EU. He can hardly call foul when, as a campaigning politician, he is asked to comment on his own words.
Andrew Marr has a professional duty to hold the powerful to account. Mr Farage is, without doubt, a powerful man whose words inspire millions. He should expect nothing but the most rigorous journalistic interrogation.
Real statespeople understand and even welcome this level of scrutiny. The likes of Mr Farage operate by throwing political hand grenades and then denying responsibility. Of course press scrutiny is going to upset politicians like him. It could reveal the truth about them.
Yesterday, Mr Farage refused to answer questions. The way in which he did so revealed more about his character than any answers could have.