The Saturday Profile: Nigel Farage’s Anti-E.U. Message Finds Fans

THE floor of the European Union’s cavernous and mostly vacant parliamentary chamber here is hardly known for its lively debates. At least not until Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain’s fastest growing political party, gets up to speak.

The vast majority of the European Parliament’s 754 members, as they process the torrent of rules and regulations that Europe bestows upon them, are not inclined to question why they are here. The pay and perks are generous for those elected to five-year terms in low-turnout elections throughout the European Union’s 27 member countries. And the mission — to extend the sweep of European federalism — is for most a shared one.

But for Mr. Farage, who has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, Strasbourg has become the perfect stage to disseminate his anti-European Union message by highlighting the bloc’s bureaucratic absurdities and spendthrift tendencies as well as by mocking with glee the most prominent proponents of a European superstate: the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy. “I said you’d be the quiet assassin of nation-state democracy,” Mr. Farage has declared, as his target, Mr. Van Rompuy, squirmed in his seat just opposite, “and sure enough, in your dull and technocratic way, you’ve gone about your course.”

His speeches mix the pitch-perfect timing of a stand-up comedian — he once told Mr. Van Rompuy that he had the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a bank clerk — with a populist passion that critics say approaches demagogy, and they have become wildly popular on YouTube.

Now, his United Kingdom Independence Party is on the verge of replacing the Liberal Democrats as the country’s third-largest political party behind the Conservatives and Labour. All of which heaps more pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron, whose ability to effectively negotiate in Brussels has been compromised by rising anti-European Union sentiment within his own Conservative Party and the country at large.

“All of us are selling a product,” said Mr. Farage, who before turning to politics worked as a commodities trader. He swallowed from his glass of Rioja, on his way to putting a sizable dent in the bottle, during a lunchtime interview this fall in the parliamentary dining room here. “But neither of these guys ever worked in the commercial sector where they had to sell something,” he continued. “They are ghastly people, and neither pass the Farage test: Would I employ them or would I want to go have a drink with them?”

The very thought of raising a pint with either Mr. Barroso or Mr. Van Rompuy elicits a cigarette-scarred chortle from Mr. Farage. With his dapper suits, cuff links and love of a wine-soaked lunch, Mr. Farage can come across as a caricature of a past-his-prime City of London financier — a loudish type that one frequently encounters in pubs in the wealthy suburbs, sounding off on cricket and the latest bureaucratic atrocity in Brussels.

BUT as politicians in Europe and Britain are now realizing, Mr. Farage’s “damn the technocrats” rallying cry — raw, profane and born of genuine conviction — is not so easily dismissed. At least not when officials from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are calling the shots in Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Not when a former European commissioner is prime minister of Italy. And not when bland, increasingly ineffectual career politicians in France, Spain and Britain are struggling to connect with angry, austerity-weary voters.

“What I did not understand was the sheer fanaticism behind the project — there is nothing that will stop these guys,” Mr. Farage said, drawing deep on one of the countless Rothmans cigarettes he will polish off during the day. “But what they have completely missed is the rise of identity politics.”

That, he said, can manifest itself in the form of his Independence Party. Or, he continued, can result in “desperate people doing desperate things,” like the extreme nationalism of Greece’s neo-fascist party Golden Dawn, which has ridden a tide of anger against immigrants and a worsening economy.

There is no disputing the Independence Party’s rise in Britain under Mr. Farage. In the 2009 election for the European Parliament, the Independence Party came in second to the Conservatives, taking 16 percent of the vote, and in 2014 many expect it to become the No. 1 vote-getter. In British elections, the Independence Party’s vote share is smaller, because of its narrow focus on leaving the European Union. It tallied just 3 percent in 2010, not enough to secure a seat in Parliament. In recent polls, however, the party’s support has shot up, putting it on a par with the government’s much-maligned coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

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One Response to “The Saturday Profile: Nigel Farage’s Anti-E.U. Message Finds Fans”

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    December 20, 2012 at 9:50 AM #

    Not being a complete hyorpcit you will be on record as saying that Vince Cable calling Brown “Mr Bean” certainly more insulting thjan calling someone a bank clerk, “diminished him”.Not being wholly corrupt & illiberal you will not choose to censior free speech.Or not as the case may be.

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