It is now fashionable to describe Nigel Farage as an ‘extremist’, ‘far right’ or ‘fascist’ politician. Last month, Dame Margaret Beckett denounced his ‘brand of extreme right-wing politics’; this week, Armando Iannucci tweeted:
‘Any vote for Farage on Thursday won’t be seen by him as a protest but as support for his brand of far-right UK politics.’
And on Monday, the author and journalist Ben Goldacre described the Brexit Party leader as a ‘far right ideologue who wants to abolish the NHS.’
So what prompts otherwise intelligent people like Iannucci and Goldacre to describe Farage as ‘far right’? And is that description really fair?
A quick glance at Farage’s politics suggests it isn’t. Farage has spoken out against interventionist wars abroad. He has also voiced his support for decriminalising recreational drugs. And he is supportive of Muslims integrating into British society. Such positions are hardly typical of a supposedly far-right politician.
Another charge against Farage made by his critics is that he wants to privatise the NHS. This may be his intention or not. But if it is, a true far-right fascist would surely seek to do the opposite: centralise the health service in order to monitor what kind of person is – and is not receiving – care, ensuring that foreigners don’t get access.
The Brexit Party also has representatives from across the political spectrum. One of its leading lights is Claire Fox, who for twenty years was an activist for the Revolutionary Communist Party.
What’s more, if recent polls are anything to go on, the party is backed by a third of the British population. Surely they can’t all be fascists. So clearly there is something awry at this ‘far-right’ name-calling.
It’s true that Farage has said some justly nasty things about Islamists. He has also made comments that are arguably open to misinterpretation about the Jewish financier George Soros. And Farage has spoken of the need for tougher borders.
But a fascist he is not. And if we call Nigel Farage ‘far right’ how do we describe the actual far right? You know, actual fascists and racists who would rather there were no Muslims in Britain at all. And would rather have no immigration at all than controlled immigration. Should they be known as the ultra-right? Right-wing extra? I Can’t Believe It’s Not Right Wing?
Applying the epithet ‘far-right’ to Farage – a man who now openly speaks out against his former party Ukip for being of that very ilk – is clearly absurd. It is also bound to backfire for those who chuck such an insult around.
Part of the blame for this name-calling lies with social media, a narcissistic and needy arena where people employ ever-more dramatic and fantastical language in order to draw attention to themselves in order to get likes and retweets. On Twitter, ‘far right’ is far more eye-catching than the more accurate ‘populist’.
A second factor is that hardcore Remain supporters have grown ever more panicky and furious at the prospect of a Brexit Party victory tomorrow. These people didn’t get their way in 2016 – and they will not get their way this week, making some incandescent that the masses are still refusing to change their minds about leaving the EU. For too many ardent Europhiles, this fury has resulted in them resembling Rick from The Young Ones, a character who also disparaged everyone vaguely objectionable as ‘fascist’.
When intelligent discourse is replaced by gestures like throwing milkshakes – apparently a commendable action in the eyes of some – it is a sign that one side is losing the argument.
‘Far right’ and ‘fascist’ have become part of the armoury used by Farage’s opponents to alarm and cajole the Brexit Party’s supporters – and the undecided. I suspect that most people will see through this desperate distortion of the English language.
Patrick West is a columnist for Spiked and author of Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times (Societas, 2017)