A GUEST POSTING:
Call them Europe’s Angry White Men: a cast of populist politicians propelled onstage by the Continent’s economic catastrophe. Sometimes jingoistic, usually furious, almost always unfit for office, these would-be demagogues are both symptoms of the crisis and megaphones for its social distress. But where Italians swoon over a paunchy comedian, Beppe Grillo, and Greece has been terrorized by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the British have recently taken a shine to a pinstriped former investment banker. As if to confirm the suspicion that this is some giant act of national self-parody, his name is Nigel.
Nigel Farage is head of the U.K. Independence Party, and over the past couple of months he has become possibly the most talked-about politician in Britain. That’s partly because he is one of the few British politicians capable of provoking an opinion. Almost everything about Farage and his followers is faintly cartoonish. Their core demands are simple: Britain should swagger out of the European Union and slam its door to immigrants. Where other parties’ symbols are inoffensively universal—here a red rose, there an oak tree—UKIP goes for gaudy purple and yellow and a big, bold pound sign...
Chain-smoking and beer-swilling, Farage, 49, poses as that most British version of masculinity, a bloke: the sort who says what he thinks, thinks what he says, and doesn’t give two hoots for niceties. On the floor of the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year, Farage addressed the EU president, Herman Van Rompuy: “You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk. … You come from Belgium, which of course is pretty much a non-country.” It was classic Nigel: reprehensible yet funny, and expertly channeling the id of Middle England.
There is about Farage the strong whiff of actor’s greasepaint. He’s a man of the people who went to a public (in U.S. terms, private) school, Dulwich College, before working in the City. He’s a Euro-skeptic who sits in the European Parliament. And were his apparently populist policies ever to be subjected to serious scrutiny, they might not be so popular among his largely blue-collar voters. It’s the rich and big business that would do best out of UKIP’s proposals for a low flat tax and the breakup of the public health system.