Yes, yes, yes, some young ‘uns support UKIP. Just as a few black people do too. But come on. We all know – because the polling tells us so – that UKIP supporters are likely to be older and whiter than the average voter and, most importantly, also more certain that the whole bleedin’ country is going to the dogs. The sodding dogs, I tell you.
Of course there are problems. Of course there are great injustices that need correcting. Of course there are difficult, often intractable, policy debates that resist easy answers. There always have been and always will be. Change is always alarming and always unavoidable. Stuff happens and the job of real politicians is to manage that change.
Real politicians know this. Only phoneys pretend it isn’t. Only phoneys assert that with one bound we can be free and everything – everything! – will be better. Our glorious future will be assured if only we muster the nerve to rid ourselves of the scum who, though purporting to lead this great country, have betrayed it.
Nigel Farage is a phoney. There is a simple solution to everything that ails the United Kingdom: leave the European Union and, to all intents and purposes, close our borders. Then we shall enjoy a new Golden Age.
It is an illusion wrapped in a lie inside a fraud. No such solution presents itself. In the unlikely event Mr Farage got his way almost every problem this country faces would remain intact – and remain as impervious to simple solution.
His politics are not really about the EU anyway. It is a useful front, a tool to be exploited by UKIP and its fellow-travellers. Their real beef is with Britain itself and, significantly, with politics too. Britain doesn’t look like it did (this is bad) and she is led by trimmers and hypocrites and an out-of-touch elite who neither understand the facts of life nor care to learn them.
Poppycock, of course, but the kind of cheap populism that proves powerful in an age in which class and party loyalty is fraying. It remains the case, however, that MPs know more about the realities of life than is commonly supposed. They, not the golf club bore, actually have to try and improve their constituents’ lives. Their mailbag is a constant source of woe (when it’s not deluged by cranks and crackpots, that is) that gives MPs a better insight into the struggles of life on the margins of society than is generally appreciated.
Of course there are some lazy MPs and some who are dimwits and some others who are evidently self-serving shysters. But most MPs are not actually like that. They do a difficult job to the best of their ability and without much thanks. Which is fine. But also worth remembering.
Farage takes advantage of your cynicism and seeks to exploit it for his own ends. (Though he’s not brave enough to put himself before the people in an election that might actually matter.) Your cynicism is nothing compared to his, mind you. Your country has been stolen from you, he suggests, and a purge of our decadent political class is long overdue.
In this respect he’s just a tweed-clad Russell Brand. Brand, after all, says that:
Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.
This is bollocks on stilts but perhaps its most objectionable element is this “like most people” bit. A lazy assertion of unearned superiority and a sweeping claim to illusory popularity. Cheap and cynical in equal measure and neither different in kind or degree to the sort of stuff we endure from Mr Farage and his sympathisers.
It is a kind of pose – and a vainglorious pose at that. A piece of sneering hoodwinkery peddled by a brace of charlatans who, whatever their apparent differences, have much more in common than you might initially think. Fine for getting on Newsnight but neither the sort of thing that wins elections that actually matter nor a useful platform for the messy, difficult, complex business of actual government.
Even pensioners can be adolescents and anti-politics is no replacement for actual politics.
So three loud cheers for Janan Ganesh who concludes his latest column in the Financial Times with thunderous common sense:
Instead of smearing themselves with tar and feathers, mainstream politicians should remind populists that they do the hard work of politics: representing constituents, reconciling competing claims and taking an interest in dry corners of legislation that affect people’s lives. Most politics is necessary drudgery. Seen from this angle, the “elite” are the people who get their hands dirty. And populists who damn the whole spectacle from cosy sidelines are the truly decadent ones.
That’s some proper straight-talking. Don’t expect it to catch on.