openDemocracyUK: Review

‘One Party After Another’: A detailed biography of Farage that lacks criticism

Michael Crick’s new book impressively amasses more information on the ex-UKIP leader than ever before – but fails to judge the racism it documents

Martin Shaw
20 February 2022, 12.01am
Michael Crick offers a detailed study of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage
Stefan Rousseau/PA. All rights reserved.

One Party After Another’ should, of course, be the title of a book about Boris Johnson’s current crisis.

Instead, this is Michael Crick’s study of Nigel Farage, and the parties in question are political organisations rather than ‘work events’, although the former UKIP leader will appreciate the irony – as he ought, really, most of Johnson’s political output, since it is designed for his electorate.

I read Crick’s lengthy biography, worrying that it might contain some killer information that I had missed, just after returning the proofs of my book on ‘Political Racism: Brexit and Its Aftermath’. Yet although Crick impressively brings together more information about Farage than anyone else, he basically confirms the emerging consensus: Farage was necessary for Brexit and the hard-Right Tory government to happen, but was not a sufficient cause.

Standing back from Crick’s picture of Farage’s life – often as disruptive for the man himself as for our political system – one sees the continuities from the schoolboy who, Crick tells us, doodled ‘National Front - NF - Nigel Farage’ to the shrewd political entrepreneur who scooped up the votes of Conservative voters, members, councillors and even MPs in European elections, reducing the Tories’ vote share to less than 9% in 2019.

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Farage once claimed to have ‘created’ Johnson and he has certainly been a key conduit for the mainstreaming of the far Right that we now see in the nationalist Tory regime. Driven by hostility to the EU, Farage’s key insight was that the way to make UK withdrawal popular was to hitch it to the Powellite hostility to immigration, which, after the marginalisation of Enoch Powell himself (Farage’s hero), had increasingly become the preserve of extreme-Right groups.

So Farage tried to make Powellism respectable, even claiming with typical faux-innocence (in a quote that Crick doesn’t seem to have picked up): “I knew that touching the immigration issue was going to be very difficult. ... [T]he only thing that upsets me about it is that, had it been wilfully and overtly a racist message, I might have deserved some of [the criticism]. But it wasn’t. It never was. It never, ever was. It was a logical argument about numbers, society…”

This ‘numerical racism’, as I label it, depended on racialising the very idea of ‘immigrant’, and is the common currency of the Tory Right and campaigns such as Migration Watch, which pretend that they are bothered only about the numbers of people entering the UK, not their ethnicity. It’s a type of ‘inferential' racism, as cultural theorist Stuart Hall said, which can be traced back to before Farage was born, but he used it in 2006-16 to build a pro-Brexit coalition of all those who would say, ‘I’m not racist but …’.

Faragism ended freedom of movement and partially reversed the flow of Europeans into the UK

Although Farage avoided the crude, emotive language about ‘Blacks’, which Powell indulged in 1968, his campaign was still targeted – chiefly against Muslims and Eastern Europeans. While in the 1964 general election, the notorious Tory propaganda in Smethwick had warned, ‘if you want a n****r for a neighbour, vote Labour’, Farage would say, 50 years on, ‘any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people moved in next door.’ The sentiment was the same, of course. While Crick documents Farage’s record of racism, he disappointingly avoids judging it.

Farage’s UKIP made most of the running on immigration and Europe, but there was always a deep synergy with the Conservatives – Tory leaders had already tried anti-immigrant populism. During the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave, fronted by Johnson and other Tories, pinched Farage's best lines and turned them into a far more overwhelming racist campaign than the Farage-led LeaveEU’s. It suited all sides, however, for Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster to become the referendum’s ultra-racist moment, with Michael Gove piously claiming to have ‘shuddered’ when he saw it.

Farage’s importance can be measured by the fact that 67% of those who voted Leave in 2016 had also dabbled with UKIP over the previous two years. Significantly, Crick shows that Cummings’ famous slogan ‘Take Back Control’ – which synchronised with the idea of ‘immigration control’ and gave popular substance to the call for ‘sovereignty’ – had been repeatedly used by Farage.

Overall, Farage excelled his hero: 23 June 2016 was a bigger racist moment than 26 April 1968 when Powell spoke in Wolverhampton. Powell failed to reverse ‘coloured immigration’, but Faragism, once taken up by the Tory Right and embedded in Theresa May’s and Johnson’s Brexit, ended freedom of movement and partially reversed the flow of Europeans into the UK as well as of Britons to other EU countries. Not only that, but while Commonwealth-origin citizens of colour have rights (even if Windrush continues to violate them), Brexit has left millions of previously secure European residents with only provisional status and all of them without proper documentation.

Now that the Tories are the Brexit Party, Farage is in the middle of one of his withdrawals from party politics. The man in Downing Street has adopted Farage’s playbook and is doing a better job than he could of Trumpifying the UK. Yet opportunist as ever, Farage now attacks Johnson in The Daily Telegraph and from his new perch at GB News, and has done more than anyone to turn refugee dinghies in the English Channel into a political issue. It would sadly be wrong to think that Crick’s book is mainly of historical interest.

Michael Crick, ‘One Party After Another: The Disruptive Life of Nigel Farage’,is published by Simon and Schuster.

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