Euan McColm: Nigel Farage legacy gives reason to be fearful

He may be laughing now, but the rest of us are not. It is we who should raise a glass to his departure, writes Euan McColm

Exit stage right: Ukips Nigel Farage with his trademark man-of-the-people pint. He has achieved his destructive aim. Picture: Getty

HE just couldn’t resist that satisfied laugh, could he? Smugness is in his blood. As Nigel Farage offered his resignation – for the third time – as Ukip leader, yesterday morning, he explained he now felt he had done his bit, that he couldn’t possibly achieve more.

The word “more” floated on a self-congratulatory chuckle. Mr Farage makes former first minister Alex Salmond look like the very model of humility.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The cliche runs that all political careers end in failure. Sadly, for the majority of Scots who wished the UK to remain in the European Union, Mr Farage’s career has not followed that course. He steps down as Ukip leader having played a central role in ending the UK’s membership of the EU. Having reached that finishing line, there’s nothing else for him to do but to sit back and marvel at his achievement.

Throughout his high-profile career, the departing Ukip leader has defended himself against accusations that his belief that the UK should exit the European club was the epitome of Little Englander insularity. He was not a racist, he said, and neither was his party.

Whenever a Ukip member was exposed for espousing racist views – and this is something which continues to happen with unsurprising frequency – Mr Farage would weasel away about isolated instances and media distortion. The reason people made such a big deal about the appalling remarks made by Ukip members was because “the establishment” was running scared.

While fighting off a barrage of accusations of Ukip racism, Mr Farage explained that his campaign was about sovereignty and opportunity; a “self-governing” UK would flourish.

When it came down to it, Mr Farage fronted up a desperately racist campaign in the weeks before the June 23 referendum. Perhaps the lowest point during a series of low points was when he stood, smirking, in front at that dreadful “Breaking Point” poster, which depicted a queue of tired and scared refugees.

Mr Farage’s resignation yesterday should leave us in no doubt that his was always a one-dimensional politics. All those things he said about business opportunities and investment in the health service meant nothing to him. He has achieved his destructive aim and now he’s walking away, protected by personal wealth from the chaos he has wrought.

The Ukip leader’s man-of-the-
people schtick was always hooey, of course (surely those photos of him enjoying a summer garden party alongside Rupert Murdoch on Sunday have persuaded even the most loyal adherent to the lie that Mr Farage is on the side of “ordinary” people that he personifies precisely the distant “elites” he has always claimed to oppose) but, thanks to his peerless ability to prey on the fears of voters who felt let down by mainstream MPs, he was able to carry it off for long enough to get what he wanted.

A few years ago, we saw a surge of support for the British National Party under the leadership of the hateful Nick Griffin. This phenomenon confirmed that there was hunger among voters – often voters in what we might think of as traditional Labour areas – for political leaders who would not only “address” their fears about immigration but would promise decisive action to halt it.

As the BNP descended in the sort of thuggish infighting one might expect from a party of thuggish egomaniacs, its support ebbed away. And Ukip’s support rose.

To many – and I include myself among them – Ukip resembles the BNP in a nicer suit. Members might not be bovver-booted skinheads, but the complaints about parts of the country being “swamped” by immigrants, about a lack of British voices on public transport, about taking back “our country” are familiar, indeed. If you tell me you’re “not a racist, but…”, I’m going to think you’re a racist.

When Mr Farage last week turned up at the European Parliament – something he’s not often done during his lucrative 17-year career as an MEP – to crow about his victory in the referendum, he cut a pitiful figure.

When he came to the parliament and said he wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, they all laughed at him. Well, he had to say (which is what people say when what is to follow is completely unnecessary) they weren’t laughing now, were they?

Mr Farage couldn’t have looked smaller and more pathetic. His noble quest, his fight for UK sovereignty, his victory in winning “independence” for Britain had led to this: a “nyer nyer” to our European neighbours. Please, I hoped, please don’t let my fellow Europeans think this pub bore speaks for me.

All politicians, no matter their proclamations to the contrary, wish to leave behind some legacy. This is perfectly logical – why else would one endure the stresses of political office if one did not wish to change things?

And Mr Farage, as he steps down as Ukip leader, has done just that. Yes, he has shattered the UK’s bond with Europe, just as he wished, but he has done much, much more.

Racial tensions in the UK have been whipped up to levels I haven’t seen since the 1970s; immigrants report an increase in hate crimes; the sons, daughters and grandchildren of those who settled in the UK five or more decades ago tell of being told to “go home”.

Mr Farage, with his fag-rattle laugh and mine’s-a-pint bonhomie, has his fingerprints all over this crime against our society. He has given views that we should challenge a veneer of respectability.

He has made it that little bit easier to be hateful. He has given those whose skins aren’t white or whose accents aren’t British reason to feel uncomfortable, even afraid. I hope, this time, his resignation means his permanent departure from our national discourse.

But, I fear, even if Nigel Farage does fade into obscurity, the stench he has created will linger for a long time.