Whatever you think about Nigel Farage he is blockbuster television. But is the BBC enabling his ring-wing rhetoric?
We need to talk about Nigel.
The last time it was announced that he was to appear on Question Time, an audible groan arose from the audience.
His interrogation by Piers Morgan a short time ago created the #MorganFarage hashtag, a Twitter tour-de-force of takedown and ridicule.
We know now what he will say before he says it and he knows that, too. Yet there he is, his grinning face a jack-o’lantern full of ‘all things old are new again’.
Because he knows what’s known in business as his USP – Unique Selling Point. He’s the ‘Man On the Clapham Omnibus’ – early twenty-first century style.
He’s the ‘cove’ at the country pub who sits outside for a smoke and a pint and makes jokes about foreigners and girls and his ex-mother-in-law. He’s ‘politically incorrect’ in a very loud way in a PC world and doesn’t give a monkey’s. In other words, he’s England’s id.
Like his capo, Donald Trump, he’s great theatre, too. Alan Ayckbourn couldn’t have written Farage.
And I use ‘capo’ deliberately because we’re talking about a kind of mafia here alive in the world, a right-wing populist mob who have formed from common ground: they want to go back. Backwards to go forward and, like Trump, make you believe that you exist in chaos and only they have the key.
But why does being a part of this new/old right-wing insurgency get Nigel all over our air?
Partly it’s because of the Media Age we live in.
Nigel himself has said that he’s been on Question Time roughly 29 times. Nigelologists will confirm it is a few more – in fact, he’s been on so many times even I’ve been on with him.
But he is also a favourite on other BBC shows. There are frequent grumbles about how often he pops up across the public service broadcaster.
Most people think the show is produced by the BBC but they gave up Question Time long ago.
The show is produced by Mentorn, who also bring you Battle Of The Stars, Finding My Twin Stranger, Sex Lies And Online Affairs and Angry Brits Caught On Camera.
In other words, Mentorn is an entertainment company with entertainment values. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to see that the man-in-the-blazer–with–the big-mouth was television gold. Put Farage on and the feathers will fly. And they did, and they do. We like to be entertained. And there are few mixes better than news and entertainment: ‘infotainment.’
Nigel Farage is the King of infotainment.
Most politicos come on Question Time so buttoned up that you can feel them tightening their sphincters as the dreaded theme music begins and David Dimbleby opens the show.
An icon of his profession, this man is out to do one thing: make news. The show is taped, but that’s only to prevent obscenities or law-breaking. Other than that, if you mess up it’s out there.
That’s why most politicos in government or the shadow cabinet who come to the tapings are surrounded by special advisers.
These bright, young things – how David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Miliband and many more started out – surround the politician like clucking hens. If these elected officials make one slip on air it’s on the front page of The Daily Mail, nemesis of the BBC.
Usually non-politicos like me are a kind of comic relief, we owe nothing to no one, so we’re free. But never before had there quite been a politician like Farage. He was and is comic relief as well.
He’s not a Theresa May, walking around backstage curled up inside herself like she had an earpiece in her ear; nor a David Miliband, nervously barking at his assistants to check his notes.
Farage is sine qua non. Of himself. Beholden to no one.
Off camera he’s steely and driven and knows his onions.
And he’s a hater.
Always a good thing for infotainment.
You may have noticed during the EU referendum campaign, that the Leave camp suddenly shifted to the word ‘control’ and the phrase ‘Take Back Control’.
Suddenly a shambolic conglomeration of factoids and the secular equivalent of burning sacrifices to the gods abruptly ended. And in its place came an eerie, determined, steely mantra floating over the airwaves. ‘Take Back Control’. ‘Take Back Control.’
So here you are, a hard-working, decent person struggling under George Osborne’s austerity budget and not knowing what the hell the Opposition is up to. And then you hear it. That magic bullet.
‘Take Back Control’ describes You … Is you. What better word; what better phrase conjures up revenge; street-justice; getting your own back? And what difference does it make if there are no immigrants where you live, immigration is a good peg to hang grievances on. Because it’s always ‘Them’. Them Out There.
And that’s human nature.
How was this deep anger and rage discovered?
One way was through the use of what’s called big data. Boris Johnson won the London mayoralty twice through big data. Trump won the presidency that way, too.
Out there are data analytic companies. Many specialise in ‘election management strategies’ and ‘messaging and information operations’.
These are techniques taken from the military, developed during the various wars in the Middle East and used to get a jump on the enemy. It’s called ‘psyops’ – psychological operations.
It’s basically mass propaganda, 21st century style, and it works on human emotions.
These psyops organisations usually help the right-wing. They have algorithms that can mine the ‘likes’ on Facebook, and get an idea of what an individual and her friends ‘like’. Who they are. What they feel and think. A psyops organisation gave Steve Bannon the capital to relaunch Breitbart as an influencer, a harvester of Far Right thinking and views.
Another psyops company was close to Leave. The company must have discovered that ‘control’ was a big thing; an important thing; a possible winner.
Soon the EU referendum argument dumbed-down. It didn’t need to think – feeling was all. Leave people got narrower and nastier: ‘die in the ditch.’ These were the extreme emotions the psyops companies found. With Facebook ‘likes’, adverts could be created. Words like ‘Remoaners’ made, which psyops had to discover was not posh or complicated, but breakfast-telly and sport-radio friendly.
Take this sophisticated marketing on to one-man-band Nigel Farage and a star is born.
One major psyops company says it was they who got Nigel the gilded cage shot with Trump in the Trump Tower lift. Indeed.
And since television producers know that Farage drives eyeballs to screen, they’re in conscious and unconscious cahoots with alt-right cyber honchos.
It’s an holy, unhealthy synergy. But news will ride it. They have to.
It’s like the scene in Godfather Part II where there’s the Mafia summit and someone holds up the solid gold phone as a gift.
The media and the right-wing psyops organizations are the Wise Guys at the table.
Nigel, whether he knows it or not , is the phone.
I know two prominent Ukippers. Even though our politics re: the EU are polar opposites, they’re nice people, and great fun. I hope they lose politically 24/7, but not as human beings. And they feel the same about me.
I’ve asked them about Farage, a kind of Banquo’s Ghost who won’t die, and they look at me in despair. There’s absolutely nothing they can do. ‘They love him’, one of them said, pointing out into the void.
How can this public schoolboy and former stockbroker get away with calling UKIP’s sole MP Douglas Carswell ‘posh’ and ‘elite’? How can he can trouser an enormous salary plus perks as an MEP and still rail against the EU?
How can Donald Trump, born the son of a millionaire and resident of a gilded tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, seem to speak for an ‘Okie from Muskokee’?
This is what pysops companies discovered and what ‘Remain’ missed – Farage, like Trump, ‘talks back’.
He is the man railing at the experts on television. The woman talking to herself as she reads yet another tale of the well-connected, the entitled. Farage’s adjustment and recalibration of reality is the new Thing. He said once that if the result of the EU referendum turned out to be 52%-48% in favour of Remain that it was ‘unfinished business’. He’d threatened to lead a march against the Supreme Court itself – until he found out that Tommy Robinson and Pegida were planning to be there. No good for the Brand, you see. Hurts and clouds The Message. The Mission.
And so, if we’re not careful, Farage, and Trump, too, along with their ‘useful idiots’ could lead us to the land of ‘Laughter and Forgetting’.
This is the name that the great Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera invented to describe his native land.
When it was a totalitarian state.