The first EU membership debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage was boring and pointless on a political level. What we knew before it started and after it finished was that we were witnessing two men jumping at an opportunity to impress their own political camps and that they could both win the day. For everybody else, it was a mutually assured distraction and there was little new to learn about either politician. But there is at least one interesting lesson to take away. Not concerning the politician, but concerning the viewers.
During the debate it was clear to see that Nick Clegg had done his homework. He was exploding with economic data and the names of companies that had cited EU membership when choosing to invest in Britain. Those listening on the radio could easily have imagined him dressed in a Formula One racers jacked, adorned in the logo's of these euro-friendly businesses. This was a visibly smart, confident and pragmatic approach to the European question. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, for all his recent media experience, appeared flusters and tetchy. He snapped like Jeremy Clarkson caught in traffic and sweated like Richard Nixon caught on camera. On top of all this he had much of his analytically erroneous propaganda publications exposed and debunked right in front of him.
What was the result in the first poll? Farage had won by a landslide, scoring 57% with Clegg scraping a comparatively pathetic 36%. It reminded me of a poll in 2003 in which Channel 4 asked 100,000 British viewers to vote of the "worse Briton." The winner was Tony Blair and two years later he went on to win his third parliamentary majority, prior to the discovery of a highly embarrassing WMD deficit. Third in the poll was Margret Thatcher, who had also won three general elections.
What I believe we are seeing here is a populist electoral rebellion against the benevolent statesman and a reluctant acceptance of the political spiv.
At a time when we are more disillusioned then ever with the careerist politician, we have turned to a man who lies, laughs and admits to ignoring his own manifestos with a carefree smile. Because he is what he is and we all know it. In this way Farage is remarkably transparent and inexorably human. He has the timeless appeal of Arthur Daley, Derek Trotter and Private Joe Walker. We love these characters because they, like us, are simply doing their best in the circumstances they found themselves in, to get away with it. A vote for UKIP is the smiling nod and blithe shrug of two people who notice each other walking straight though the open ticket barriers of a deserted train station at midnight.
The victims of this are the Cleggs of this world. The kind of person who uploads an apology video to YouTube after breaking a promise, is no longer in any way relatable. He claims to be acting in our best interest; he might even believe that he is. But, in a cynical world where it is more honest to be the dishonest man, the Cleggs must be suppressed.