The Farage formula of belligerent flag waving non-negotiation will appeal to some members of his Australian audience, writes Dr Binoy Kampmark.
FOUNDER and former leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, has always been a revolutionary in search of a popular cause.
His strength, along with other populist politicians, is a seeming ability to move beyond the synthetic production values of the modern party machine.
With Nigel, you can have a pint, vent, let off some misguided though earnestly felt emissions. These might have to do with immigration or race — points which he pushed with pathological dedication when running his pro-Brexit stance in 2016. An intense loathing for Brussels and the European Union (EU) did the rest.
Since then, Farage has become a moaning high priest in the pay of populist causes, a warning agent against the possibility that Britain might be heading for a second, mind-changing referendum that could revise the decision to leave the EU. Farage’s work risks being undone and that has kept him distinctly busy as vice-chairman of the Pro-Brexit "Leave Means Leave" organisation.
Australia has managed to find a place on Farage’s lecture circuit. He visits a country with a freshly anointed prime minister resembling much of the old, its own obsession with immigration and a sufficient catalogue of phobias that will keep him busy. He evidently feels at home.
At Pyrmont’s Doltone House in Sydney, Farage told his 120-strong audience:
“We are living through the most exciting political times we have seen in decades.”
He released a familiar arsenal of vitriol upon a few favourite targets of the reactionary right, foremost among them the Australian national broadcaster:
“It doesn’t matter how much protesters scream, it doesn’t alter how much negativity we get from the state-sponsored peasants. Are you there, ABC?”
Farage’s primary target is traditionally the capitalised Establishment, a chameleon he has never entirely mastered.
“We are now living through a global political revolution, and we the people will bring down the Establishment.”
What he fails to understand about the Australian political environment is how utterly comfortable the Establishment has been in assimilating many of his views — a fear of external interference by unholy foreign capitals (except Washington), a terror of refugees and migrants and a fear of Islam. What was needed was a useful idiot, an agent of disaffection such as Senator Pauline Hanson, or, most recently, Senator Fraser Anning.
Farage seems willing to step up to the plate again, advertising his credentials for disruption to his overcharged audience. “I’m the only human in the world,” he claimed immodestly to his Sydney audience, “who was involved in the campaign for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.”
On Friday, Farage found himself in the company of members of the Melbourne Club, a misnamed “gentlemen's” club that retains the nostalgic wonder of a barricade against the outside world, with all the appearances of a well padded lunatic asylum. It is without irony that Farage can set foot in the very place that has regarded itself as dyed-in-the-wool Establishment, through and through, while proclaiming he will bring it down. (Ruling groups always need their jesters to mock them.) Traditional revolts of the yeomanry do not tend to happen in such institutions; they tend to be their catalysts.
'These are intended as networks of self-affirmation and comfort, fitness dens and enclaves of the insecurely likeminded.'
Such spectacles are discordant: the establishment wine-and-port smugness lined by stock exchange assets comes face-to-face with the terrified blue-collar collectives who feel a certain vitality sapped and drawn. There is talk about elites; chatter about politically correct apostles. Both while these groups would otherwise be mortal enemies, the Australian Right finds itself diversely erratic, a cramping of mismatched individuals who risk cannibalising each other.
The common ground to all is the need for firm borders, tough admission standards to club and country, and the indisputable power of barricades. It is precisely the sort of vision figures such as Blair Cottrell of the United Patriots Front longs for.
Last year, he announced efforts on his part and those of colleagues to “set up a social club” called the “Lads Society” in both Melbourne and Sydney:
“No longer are we just going to sit on Facebook and complain about what’s going on, we’re actually going to rebuild an Australian community for ourselves.”
These are intended as networks of self-affirmation and comfort, fitness dens and enclaves of the insecurely likeminded.
Protesters such as the anti-racism organiser, Chris Di Pasquale, face an excruciating dilemma. In mustering some 200 individuals on Collins Street on Friday against Farage and company, a platform of additional publicity was created. Sloganeering met sloganeering; accusations of Nazi were traded with accusations that free speech was being tarnished.
Farage, in some ways like U.S. President Donald Trump, is a fire of indignation that craves an unending oxygen supply all too willingly supplied by enthusiasts. He sanitises the extreme; softens the reactionary. For Di Pasquale, “the very dark heart of Australia” is beating all too readily, one sympathetic to the likes of Cottrell and Senator Fraser Anning.
Di Pasquale says:
“It has never been more important to stand up to these kinds of events.”
To the untutored student of politics, Farage can come across as an extremist pure and simple. But his very existence is premised on confronting the technocrats, managers and bureaucrats who have made the conditions of his rise inexorable.
The Farage formula of belligerent flag waving non-negotiation will appeal to some members of his Australian audience. Instinct here holds over reason; overwhelming sentimentality is preferable to dull rationales. Political tribalism is hostile to pragmatics and consensus, and Farage has every intention to disregard Britannia’s role in seeking to find an arrangement befitting its new status vis-à-vis the EU. Wreck, not discuss — witness the death rattle of this doomed civilisation.
From Australia, he will pick up that element of stubbornness that embraces the merits of international law while evading it; a country which has benefited more than most from having a diverse base of immigrants while disliking the idea of immigration. This will not matter — the time for reasoning is over and all Farage wishes to do is play.
Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. You can follow Binoy on Twitter @bkampmark.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.