"Up the RA, Nigel?"
A yellow grin quickly recedes to form multiple chins as Nigel Farage recoils into what is left of his spine. Caught. The former leader of the right-wing nationalist party UKIP and joyfully crowned "pound shop fascist" had no words. Bluff had turned to blunder and the news presenter smelt blood.
"Face it Nigel, you just haven’t got a clue, have you?"
Apparently the chest cavity can hold more of the neck than first thought, as a watery eyed schoolboy looked up at the teacher, trousers soaked and dignity streaming down cheek. Piss everywhere.
There is a surprising semblance between Nigel Farage and a pissy schoolboy; certainly not one we should overlook. We know schoolboys learn from their fathers to be strong. We know the pressure that exists in a classroom. We’ve all been there. Too scared to say anything. Too desperate to hold. Two opposing forces that only ever have one victor. We understand. We expect.
In the same way, we understand Nigel Farage. The flag bearer of red-face, cavernous wrinkles, tweed skin and beer stained breath. The DNA of a true Blundersaurus-rex, roaming a dystopian Jurassic Park politics. Everything is perfect: Not a migrant left un-touched, nor a plastic flag left un-waved, nor a single yellow tooth not grimaced whilst clinking to the greatest of modern English Revolutions. To see Nigel Farage is not just to see the man, but a symbol of wider association. An Icon as well as an object. Good for some, bad for others. Nigel Farage is the image, and the image is Nigel Farage.
This makes for interesting watching. A man is caught out for being a hypocrite on national TV – embarrassed, DESTROYED, outsmarted – whilst also being completely himself. Another to add to the ever-growing blooper reel of Nigel Farage and a further solidifying of his image.
The fact that we 'expect' this from Nigel Farage excites his fans, disgusts (yet again) his opponents, and quietly solidifies his symbolism to all. Pierre Bourdieu told us that those systems that ask the least from us, which demand nothing but our complicit silence, are those that are the most pervasive and crucially, the most oppressive. He may have been wrong.
For those whom oppose Nigel Farage, their anger may be their most powerful oppressor. Justifiable outrage for many, active disappointment for the rest. Shares on Instagram feeds, angry rants to friends, the bewilderment at how these bastards can get away with it. Every. Single. Time. The answer is hiding in plain sight. In every post, conversation, inner thought.
We expect them to.
Expectation may not always breed forgiveness but it does create understanding. Predictability can play a large role in how we react to things. We can’t react with equal disappointment and anger every time 'that friend' cancels a plan again. It would be impossible to harbour that resentment in the same way. The mind protects through prediction. We become more detached and less emotional. We see it not as a 'betrayal' but something less personal, routine. It can sometimes even force a laugh (teeth gritted perhaps). Our experience remains the same, our reaction changes. Nigel Farage has not betrayed us here. We aren’t surprised. "He’s just being himself", "saying it how it is". Those watery eyes, increased chins, decreased vertebrae and pissy trousers will happen countless more times. We know that. He knows that.
This routinising of negative expectations severely curtails the ability to criticise, in full, the moral, social and personal failures of the Right. Characters like Farage hold a monopoly of negative expectation that creates the impression of honesty to character. People say Farage "doesn’t hide behind fancy sayings, he says it how it is and sometimes gets it wrong". This impression of honesty creates a mask for Farage and others like him, whereby their political and personal views are simplified with characteristics that encourage low expectation. The more we understand Farage as a liar, the more stable and fixed this mask becomes whenever he proves the rule. He appears as "true to himself" and is adorned for being "honest".
But honesty and truth are not the same. One can be – and often is – honest without telling the truth but one can never tell the truth without being honest. When it turns out that the ardent Royalist – who lied about £350 million going to the NHS after Brexit – has publicly announced his support for the IRA for £87, we aren’t left to question our understanding in the slightest, despite the words reverberating off the tweed like nails on a blackboard. Farage has contradicted his supposedly integral patriotic beliefs for a small fee and from this he gains the impression of honesty. We expect lies and hypocrisy from Farage, and when he plays his part, we see this as his 'honest' self. Honesty creates stability to character that transcends political beliefs on their own. Stability, in this sense, is the marrying of the personal and public self that is crucial to success in modern politics. The creation of simple, understandable and trustworthy characters. Trust can be built wherever expectation is mirrored with reality. Farage is a liar and a hypocrite and we know him as such. Reality meets expectation in both his private and political life. Lies and hypocrisy fuel honesty and trust. Trust leads to expectation, the softening of anger and even favour.
In these characters, stable, confident and observable, the public can seek refuge. Supporters and critics alike model their behaviours from such characters - although in completely different ways - and find their own stability in character solidified.
"How can people think like that?"
"What drives these people?"
No real self exploration is needed for observers further than an agreement or disagreement with what’s in-front of them. An innumerate number of simple binaries ‘for’ or ‘against’. The politics of community that dominates the current political sphere requires identifiable, relatable, understandable and honest characters. One dimensional politicians who we can align ourselves ‘for’ or ‘against’. Welcome to stage Farage, Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Trump and Hopkins. Take a bow. Nuance, exit through the stage door.
A binary politics is a divided one, and honest politicians thrive in divisive politics. One great failure of modern political rhetoric, on both sides, is a belief that politics and politicians should always be honest and transparent. Single dimensional representatives of themselves and the people who vote for them. This does not mean virtuous and kind. Honesty does not equate to truth or the ‘right’ way to govern. However, being honest is one of the few virtues that can reach across a divide where truth is contested. It is similar to a photograph. A photograph never lies or changes depending on to whom it reveals itself. One viewer may have a different perspective on what the photograph shows to another, but the photograph itself never changes. It is honest (at least in its replication of a moment, whether that moment was curated or not). Rigidly reproducing the same fraction of a second, over and over again. This same ‘you know what you're getting’ understanding plays off round the family dinner table to the sound of ‘love him or hate him, he speaks his mind and I like that’ up and down the country. The bitter and cruel honesty of Nigel Farage presents itself as a stable island in a treacherous sea of disputed truth.
If you are known as a liar, for saying it ‘how you see it’, for not being ‘scared to upset or abuse people to get what you want’, you can still be seen as an honest person. If your political self and private self both emit hypocrisy and dishonesty, then you have protection. This protection is created, most sadly of all, by the people you lie to. The mind protects through prediction and Nigel Farage is a predictable character. Not in the sense that we know how he will lie to us next but we do know that he will. "Up the RA" may be followed by anything. Surprise and anger will be suppressed, understanding and a smug recognition ‘we were right about him’ will take over. Anger is displaced with recognition. School trousers continually in the wash at the Farage household and faith in our politics left out to dry.
Recent weeks have produced a flurry of stories about ‘Tory Hypocrisy’ and questions over Boris Johnson’s position as PM. The string of lockdown parties at 10 Downing Street have been creating anger far beyond that of Nigel Farage’s blooper on Irish news. However, the same comments are made over and over again.
"Will this be the final straw?"
"Is his position untenable?"
For some individuals this will have created too much of an abhorrence. Those who buried family members during COVID will surely feel a level of betrayal far beyond the normal realms of political association. However, the vast majority of us are considering the position not in a tragic personal history of the lockdown, but in the longer history of Boris Johnson lying and getting away with it. As Simon Jenkins put it in the Guardian:
"He seems psychologically unable to disentangle falsity from half-truth."
This chimes with what we know, what we expect and what we have found out – again this week – with what we get. Jenkins goes on to discuss political hypocrisy and accuses Johnson of not knowing how to "manage it". The argument presented above is that he doesn’t have to. We do that for him. We manage with our own understandings of character, our long experience of lies and hypocrisy. We expect and we just might forgive.
The political fixation with hypocrisy is fundamentally beneficiary to the right-wing of politics. Those that claim personal truths as the basis of their politics rather than idealising a societal truth and system for all, can present themselves as honest in whatever they say. For this we forgive them. However, a fixation on honesty within the media and within political discourse has made us blind to other threats.
The Nationality and Borders Bill was passed through Parliament during in the weeks of the Partygate scandal. Clause 9 of this cruel act will allow the British Government the right to revoke citizenship of millions of people with dual nationality. A dictatorial and cruel politics that has fallen on largely deaf ears. Deportation, reprisals, destitution, death. The realities that could await some victims of the Bill that has meandered through Parliament, with the currents of public anger regarding the parties ensuring safe passage and riddance to the lives of potentially millions of citizens. The Right always wins because our society values honesty over virtue, and dislikes hypocrisy more than it does cruelty.