Nigel Farage is, apparently, “separated, skint and unable to walk the street alone”. We learn this from a Daily Mail interview, which the paper’s sub-editors describe as “soul baring”.
This interview is actually genuinely fascinating – though perhaps not for the reasons the Mail imagines. It’s not that he and his wife (herself an EU immigrant whose fate now hangs in balance) have separated. It’s not even that the interviewer makes a point of noting that Farage only receives one call during their session, whereas a year ago his phone would have been ringing off the hook. No, there is a deeper sadness here.
At the end of the classic kid’s movie The Princess Bride, the character Inigo Montoya turns to his companion and says, “I’ve been in the revenge business so long, now that it's over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life”.
It’s a fair point. Imagine the horrifying emptiness of dedicating your entire life to one specific goal – then achieving that goal, but realising your life doesn’t end with it. Instead, existence just stretches before you like an endless, formless, Samuel Beckett nightmare – no purpose; no telos; no great monster to fight, no quest to pursue.
Sounds awful, right? But now imagine how much worse it would be to achieve your great revenge – only to secretly know that the offence for which you were originally seeking vengeance never really existed. The monster you had been fighting all these years was actually just something you invented to fill the aching void within.
The interview opens with Farage proclaiming that his “contempt for career politicians knows no bounds”. This is a man who has been a career politician longer than he has been anything else. When Farage talks about his contempt for politicians, he is talking about his contempt for himself.
It quickly emerges that Nigel Farage never wanted to leave the EU. He wanted to keep fighting to leave the EU. This was obvious before the results of the referendum were even in. In this interview on the day of the vote, he says that Remain will probably win. See his certainty; see his sense of self – that’s a man who knows who he is. Compare this to the hollowed out stooge we encounter in the Mail interview, admitting that his long campaign against the EU was as much psychological as it was political – “it might not be logical but I don’t just think that I’m right about this. I know that I’m right about this.” Nigel Farage now lives in Hades, forced to wander a grey netherworld of his own creation.
And, if nothing else, Farage’s self-contempt is at least well placed. He is almost entirely a creature of the European Union. He has been an MEP since 1999, and has insisted he will keep his EU pension of €6,000 a month. Part of Britain’s divorce bill with the EU will go towards heating Nigel’s home.
Nigel claims he has it financial hard times in the interview. His official salary as an MEP was £84,221, plus an extra £40,000 expenses. His net worth was reportedly as about £2.5 million in 2016. He has a £4 million house. Perhaps he isn’t quite on George Osborne or Tony Blair levels of wealth – but his claim to be “skint” should at least put his loathsome “man of the people” shtick out of its misery. Still, it's worth noting that his own life-long campaigning for Brexit will probably leave him a bit worse off than if Britain had stayed in.
Farage claims he can’t walk down the street without verbal abuse – and it sucks if his family are getting sucked into this. But Nigel has been awfully good at dishing it out over the years. He may now have to accept a bit in return as he walks the streets of London. There are certainly other parts of the country where he might be hailed a hero. But somehow this self-proclaimed “enemy of the elites” has decided Chelsea suits him better than Sunderland. Funny that.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this interview, though, is that very soon the whole country might feel a bit like Nigel. He’s ending his career “not with a bang, but with a whimper”. And it is with a whimper that Britain will most likely leave the EU. We certainly won’t suddenly become a beacon of free trade, showering the NHS with a weekly £350 million. But nor will we sink into the sea. At least not yet.
The decline will more likely be slow. So slow we might not even notice it as we realise all the problems we used to blame on the EU are still there. Our population will still be aging; productivity growth will still be low – education, health and housing will still suffer from chronic under-investment.
We may well find ourselves just like Nigel – having invented ourselves a monster, then killed the monster – and now stuck with just ourselves again. The final disappointment.
“I have thought about the States. Life is easier over there”, muses Farage – echoing the age-old instinct of every Englishman who ever felt a failure and couldn’t face his future. Maybe Farage might actually have the brass to abandon a sinking ship that he himself scuttled. Who knows, maybe over there he might get his own talk show?
Thankfully, though, the interview actually ends with a laugh. The interviewer, Rebecca Hardy, leaves Farage’s office, hops in a black cab, and the cabbie promptly says, “that Nigel Farage is the only one of that lot I’d let in my cab.”
The journalistic convention of ending a piece by having a local taxi driver just happen to precisely recapitulate everything you’ve just written is now so hackneyed and suspect that I genuinely thought it had gone extinct. To see it make its return in the dying days of 2017 almost gives a warm giggle of nostalgia. Almost like Brexit promised, but will fail to provide. Almost like what Nigel Farage was searching for, but failed to find.