Brand on Farage as ‘Poundland Powell’
Russell Brand was in the Independent and on MSN news today. The paper and the internet news service were reporting the spat between him and the Kippers’ Fuehrer on Question Time last night. The revolutionary, author and film star had called Farage a ‘Poundland Enoch Powell’. The Duce of the anti-EU right had responded by declaring that Brand had a messiah-complex.
It’s not hard to see Brand’s point, and the comparison’s a good one. Powell and Farage are both right-wing, anti-immigration politicians, and from a certain point of view Farage is definitely rather more downmarket than the man whose former schoolfellows used to call ‘Scowly Powelly’. Powell after all was something of an academic, who taught classics at one of the Australian universities. He was also multilingual and could speak Urdu. Farage, by contrast tries to promote himself as something of a man of the people, an ordinary bloke, who likes a beer in a pub and smokes.
Powell and Farage also have in common the fact that they both deny that they are actually racist. Farage likes to boast that UKIP is a non-racist, non-sectarian party and that it has a ban on taking members from the extreme right – the National Front, BNP, and Britain First, for example, while targeting the allegedly non-racist supporters of these parties. Despite the deeply violent, venomous imagery of Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, it’s been claimed that Powell himself actually wasn’t personally racist and despised the Nazi stormtroopers, who were attracted to him after his infamous speech. Farage has learned from Powell’s mistakes, and how the former Conservative cabinet minister became virtually a political pariah because of his vile rhetoric. Farage promises instead to tackle immigration and get Britain out of the EU, all the while reassuring voters that his is not a racist party. It isn’t officially, at least in its public pronouncements, but as recent events have shown, it has had more than its share of racists in it.
Beer, Cigarettes, and Class Image in Politics
Brand also attacked Farage for his blokey, beer and ciggies image. This accounts for part of the Fuehrer’s electoral charm, as it gives him an apparent connection to the working and lower middle classes that the mainstream parties don’t have. Cameron and Clegg are toffs, who it would be far easier to imagine enjoying a sherry or extremely expensive fine wine than a pint of Best in a boozer. The same could be said of the Islington New Labour set around Tony Blair. A few years ago when Blair was in power, there was a story that Peter Mandelson had gone to a fish and chip shop in his Hartlepool constituency. Although strongly denied at the time, it was claimed that Mandelson had asked if the mushy peas northern chippies serve were avocado dip.
Brand’s right-wing opponents, like Peter Hitchens, have claimed that Brand’s working class image is false, pointing to the fact that he is very highly educated from a middle class home. Farage’s own image as a ordinary bloke is also untrue, as the man himself is public school, millionaire financier. I doubt very much that beer, the tipple of the working man and woman since time immemorial, is also Farage’s favourite beverage as he appears to claim.
Farage and the Mad Russian Fascist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky
In this respect Farage seems to me less like Enoch Powell, and more like Vladimir ‘Mad Vlad’ Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Russian far right in the 1990s. Both are extreme Right-wing populists, who deliberately try to present themselves as somehow standing up for the ordinary, working class people of their countries. Zhirinovsky racism was far more overt than that of Farage’s party. He was the leader of the venomously anti-Semitic Liberal Democratic party, which emerged amongst the economic chaos of Yeltsin’s mass privatisation of the Russian economy after the collapse of Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Zhirinovsky’s part was ultra-nationalistic, racist and profoundly anti-democratic. The BBC in the 1990s filmed him on the Russian campaign trail, sailing along the Volga in a ship making speeches to disaffected Russian voters and plotting his next moves against his political rivals.
The picture that emerged was of a shrewd, cynical politico, who made contemptuous jokes about his own country and had no qualms about smearing and spreading lies about other politicians if it would serve his purpose. Unlike many Russians, he didn’t drink or smoke, but deliberately cultivated an image to appeal to the average Russian worker, who like their British counterparts, liked their booze and ciggies. As the ship sailed along, its speakers blared out Mad Vlad’s campaign song, whose lyrics the Beeb translated as
Zhirinovsky’s a proper Russian bloke,
Even though he doesn’t drink or smoke .
They then went on to describe how Zhirinovsky, if he met the singer, would embrace him, before giving him a drink and cigarette. You can see the parallel with Farage, and the way he tries to appeal to the British working class with his pint and ciggie image.
As for spreading lies about his rivals, Zhirinovsky was shown cooking up a slander he was going to put about the mayor of St. Peterburg, Nemtsov. Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union have a reputation among Western businessmen as ‘the wild East’ for its violent lawlessness and political corruption. In the 1990s there were a series of assassinations of prominent businessmen, journalists and dissident politicians. Zhirinovsky decided that his party would claim that Nemtsov had murdered one of his opponents, and dumped the body in the Neva. Although slanderous, the allegation was all too credible given the massive political violence at the time. As he and his cronies cooked up this rumour, Zhirinovsky nodded his head and declared it to be ‘good information’, although the Beeb translated the latter word as ‘propaganda’.
Farage doesn’t lie about his opponents like Zhirinovsky, but he is very careful to lie or conceal his party’s true intentions. A string of leading Kippers, including Bob Nuttall, their deputy chairman, have made it very clear that they despise the NHS, and wish to repeal the statutory benefits and laws protecting workers and employees, such as paid holidays and maternity leave for women. When pressed on these statements, and the extremely right-wing policies put forward in their manifesto, Farage’s response is to deny that they are actually party policy. He has disavowed the 2010 election manifesto, describing it as drivel, and somewhat speciously claiming that he had no part in its formulation. The indications are there, however, that these are the party’s true policies behind the more liberal face the Kippers present to the voting public.
As for his supposed patriotism, Zhirinovsky was shown telling jokes about how terrible his country was. One of them was about two World War II British airmen, who get lost, fly off course, and crash in Russia. Coming across a kolkhoznik – collective farmer – they ask the astonished peasant where they are. ‘Up the a***’ the farmer replies. ‘That’s it’, declares one of the airmen, ‘we’re in Russia’.
Farage has similarly shown a double standard on the issue of immigration and the EU bureaucracy. The Kipper MEPs don’t vote, but are nevertheless eager to collect their salary for turning up at the European parliament. Farage has made it clear that he doesn’t want immigrants, because, according to him, they take British jobs. Not only is that factually incorrect, but Farage has personally broken this stance. His wife is German, and is employed as his secretary.
Unlike Zhirinovsky, and the parties of the Nazi right, Farage has always claimed to be democratic, and the Kippers have claimed that their party advocates the establishment of direct democracy in Britain, like that of Switzerland. Zhirinovsky, on the other hand, would have dissolved the fledgling Russian democracy if he’d won. ‘Vote for me’, he was filmed telling his audience, ‘if I win, you will never have to vote for me again’. The danger with Farage is if he ever gets into power, then for many it will be too late to vote him out once his policies of greater privatisation, benefit cuts and destruction of workers’ and women’s rights takes effect.
Farage is wilier, shrewder, and far more subtle than Powell or Zhirinovsky. He is, however, like them a right-wing populist, and particularly like Zhirinovsky in adopting a pose of enjoying working class tastes in order to gain votes and advance an anti-working class agenda.