Events and the political calendar are likely to keep UKIP as one of the most prominent ‘other’ political parties in the UK over the next few years, making this newly revised and expanded autobiography of its most high-profile and flamboyant personality, Nigel Farage, timely not only for the party’s own fans but for anyone else interested in British politics.
It is a well written, lively book, full of the sort of pugnacious language that has helped give Farage his high popularity. It is also rather kinder to some of his opponents that you might expect if you had only come across Farage through his headline grabbing strings of insults aimed at others, though when it comes to the EU and its main functionaries he doesn’t hold back. He even has some kinds words to say for the man who threatened to kill him – and rightly so given the person’s mental health had fallen apart.
Nigel Farage writes much about his own personal failings – the drunkenness, failed marriage and more – in a way that mixes skilfully killing future criticism by being frank with a strong view that if you believe in freedom the important thing is that people take responsibility for their own actions rather than that you try to ban people from making mistakes.
Despite being such a good read, at the end of it I was not that much clearer about what really motivates Nigel Farage than at the start. A libertarian streak certainly does come out. That explains some of his politics, much of which however seems to be heavily motivated a love of being the gadfly, the person with the different views poking fun at the establishment and having fun in being different. At one point when describing what made him into a UKIP activist, his first adjective is “bloody-mindedness” rather than a directly political motivation.
In his time and place that all meant being a Eurosceptic, but in another time and place would he have simply picked a different target or would he still have had the same prime political beliefs?
The book necessarily recounts a good number of the many problems UKIP has had with some of its key personalities – the failed leaders, the prima donas, the people who broke rules and so on. Farage, to his credit, even includes the fiasco in the dog days of Michael Holmes’s UKIP leadership when one morning first the party secretary changed the locks on party HQ to secure its records and then Farage himself ordered the doors broken down, the locks changed again and the files moved elsewhere so that he could secure the records.
Nearly every time, Farage disarmingly wonder if he could have done or should have acted sooner, which works as a reaction in each isolated case but does not shed any light on the overall pattern. Why has UKIP had so many problems with people who got approved as candidates or even voted in as leader? The loss rate amongst its elected MEPs is very high. Given that Farage loves knocking in the book other parties with much tighter procedures for their controls and checks, it does leave you wondering if this is one case where rather than criticising others, Farage would be better advised to look at what can be learnt from them.
Even with those caveats, the book is well worth reading, particularly as it presents a very popular and aggressive version of the anti-European case. Those who agree with it will love the rhetoric and those who don’t can learn much from its presentation.