Back when The Simpsons was good, there was a "Treehouse of Horror" episode where an advertising mascot called Lard Lad goes on a big one and starts tearing up the town of Springfield. Near the end, Lisa teams up with Paul Anka to sing a song called "Just Don't Look", and everyone stops looking and Lard Lad collapses and dies.
My point is: Nigel Farage is Lard Lad, isn't he? And every time he opens his salamander mouth, or every time UKIP make another column inch land-grab, they win. UKIP thrives on attention like a toddler at a birthday party, so I'm loathe to give it to them.
But here's the thing: Nigel Farage defended one of his former party member's use of the word "chinky" today – and fucking hell Nigel Farage, you ale-on-your-head, Gogglebox fuck party, asinine shit-show: fuck off. Because when you go on LBC Radio and say things like, "If you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you're going for?" even if one on-the-fence Middle Englander who's still secretly uncomfortable about black footballers being allowed to play for England nods along in agreement with you, then what you've done there is you've rehabilitated racism. You've created a soundbite for the kind of dad who thinks samosas are too fiery to use in his next pub argument about immigration. You've opened the door and said, "It's alright, lads, this pub has a snug in it. Real fireplace. Let's all sit around and whitely shout about how we should be able to say the N-word, shall we?"
For the purpose of full transparency, let's review the incident in question in full: Kerry Smith, former UKIP candidate for South Basildon and East Thurrock, stepped down earlier this week after it emerged he'd made homophobic and racist remarks, as well as making jokes about poor people. Then, on his bi-weekly phone-in slot today, racism apologist Farage took to LBC Radio to defend Smith's use of the word "chinky", claiming he was just a "rough diamond" from a council estate who "talks and speaks" like a lot of Britons.
There's so much wrong with this line of argument that I think I'm going to have to break it down point-by-point:
i. Just because other people think and say appallingly short-sighted and out-of-date terms from the kind of sitcom the BBC would have pulled in the 70s for being too racist, that doesn't excuse their use, especially from a parliamentary candidate who's supposed to be shooting for some position of vague power.
ii. This isn't, as Farage went on to argue, the "London elite" and their snobbishness getting the Good Old Working Class Man down by policing how they speak. Because, actually, it's more offensive to assume that every salt-of-the-earth working class guy is secretly a seething, bubbling pot of race hate instead of just a normal person in a slightly different economic bracket to you.
iii. Millions of people in the UK live in or have lived in council estates, so using "council estate" as an excuse is as bad as using it as a slur. If, like Kerry, you're staring down the barrel of turning 40 and you still don't know that "chinky" is an unacceptable term, then that's your own problem and not anybody else's.
iv. This is the kind of lesson about name-calling and right and wrong that I literally learned at the age of five.
But that's getting bogged down in the frankly absurd story of a man genuinely trying to explain away his use of the word "chinky" to help him sleep at night, and is instead ignoring the wider concern, which is this: Nigel Farage is, whatever way you spin it, a charismatic man.
Stick with me. Jeremy Clarkson is technically a charismatic man, too. So is Piers Morgan. Charisma doesn't excuse any of them from being terrible, but it does mean people like them. Charisma does not necessarily equate to charm, but it's an undeniable magnetism, an ethereal and hard to define pull.
And that's Farage's secret weapon: with every Gogglebox appearance, with every Question Time pantomime, with every picture of him drinking a pint or surviving a plane crash, he becomes more of a caricature; a Nosferatu-like monster, creeping around on tiptoes, amusing but still lethal. It's the same way Boris Johnson is essentially a bear who got confused and ended up in a suit, but is still, deep down, as Tory as you like: sneaking an agenda through with a cuddly cartoon exterior.
Day-by-day; minute-by-minute; inch-by-inch; MP-by-MP, UKIP are making a noise, and the noise is making an impact. Nigel Farage is very good at making people look at him, and he knows that making people mad enough to talk about him is as good a way of getting talked about as any.
Imagine a world where Ed Miliband absolutely owned the hell out of awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich. He's on Saturday Kitchen making one. He's had a bottle of ketchup printed with his face on it. He's ripping his shirt off during PMQs and offering David Cameron outside for an eat-off. That's what Farage is doing. He's seen an opportunity to hit two markets at once by just straddling any negative spin: he's winning over the growingly disgruntled swathe of voters who might dip UKIP's way, and he's getting the left mad enough to keep writing about him. I realise I have fallen for it . I know and it makes me mad.§
What Farage did today is tacitly give permission to the people who might say it to start saying "chinky" again. Nige says it's alright, boys, so let's get the spring rolls in. But it's not alright, and neither are UKIP. Although it often feels like they're something invented by The Thick of It to liven things up after a ratings slump, they're real and they're dangerous.
Earlier this week I spoke to an international relations expert who's been researching years of immigration debate reporting, and his most basic finding was this: the debate is narrowing because immigrants are increasingly being seen as economic units who bring money into the country (or, if you're against immigration, crime and disease), rather than actual human beings. With the debate narrowing, UKIP are taking their chance with both hands, repurposing immigration as the real problem with the UK, when it's actually far from it. Farage is painting Europeans to be the monster when he's one himself.
Farage has cheated death three times. He survived testicular cancer as a young man and a plane crash as an older one. Also, he had a car crash once. He may be un-killable. But the best way to kill this resurgence – to kill the word "chinky", the yellow trousers, the interminable pints – is to talk around the one-note UKIP debate. It isn't to look away, or to bristle on a surface level, or make jokes about his thumb-that-learned-to-scream face. It's to go: actually, Nigel Farage, when I go for a Chinese meal with my mates I just tend to call it "some food". Stop giving people an excuse to be as racist as you.
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