Nigel Farage’s slogan during his 20-year campaign to take the UK out of the European Union was “I want my country back”.
The face of Euro-scepticism in the UK for getting on for two decades, Farage helped turn UKIP from a fringe force to the third biggest party in UK politics in terms of votes at the 2015 general election, and he helped persuade more than 17 million people to vote to leave the EU.
Few politicians have been more closely identified with the party they lead. Much of that success has been a product of his straight talking, everyman image, a picture editor’s dream when snapped grinning with pint or cigarette (sometimes both) in hand.
His “man in the pub” image and disdain for political correctness left him free to attack rivals for being mechanical and overly onmessage. This inspired affection and respect among those who agreed with him on core messages about cutting immigration and leaving the EU and true to his image as an outspoken saloon bar philosopher, he got into plenty of fights.
During the general election campaign, one such fight was over TV debate comments he made about migrants using the NHS for expensive HIV treatment. They drew an angry rebuke from Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who told him: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
But despite widespread condemnation from opponents, reports quoted UKIP insiders saying the comments – dubbed “shock and awful” – were part of a carefully planned move to appeal to the party’s base. One senior aide was quoted as saying his remarks would be welcomed by “millions and millions” of working-class voters.
So how did a stockbroker’s son become a mouthpiece for the disaffected working class?
Nigel Paul Farage was born on April 3rd 1964 in Kent. His alcoholic father, Guy Oscar Justus Farage, walked out on the family when Nigel was five. Yet this seemed to do little to damage the youngster’s conventional upper-middle- class upbringing. Nigel attended fee paying Dulwich College, where he developed a love of cricket, rugby and political debate. He decided at the age of 18 not to go to university, entering the City instead.
With his gregarious, laddish ways he proved popular among clients and fellow traders on the metals exchange. Farage, who started work just before the “big bang” in the City, earned a more-than-comfortable living, but had another calling – politics. He joined the Conservatives but became disillusioned with the way the party was going under John Major. Like many on the Eurosceptic wing, he was furious when the prime minister signed the Maastricht Treaty, stipulating an “ever-closer union” between European nations.
Farage decided to break away, becoming one of the founder members of the UK Independence Party, at that time known as the Anti-Federalist League.
In his early 20s, he had the first of several brushes with death, when he was run over by a car in Orpington, Kent, after a night in the pub. He sustained severe injuries and doctors feared he would lose a leg. Grainne Hayes, his nurse, became his first wife.
He had two sons with Ms Hayes, both now grown up, and two daughters with his current wife, Kirsten Mehr, a German national he married in 1999.
Months after recovering from his road accident, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He made a full recovery, but he says the experience changed him, making him even more determined to make the most of life.
The young Farage might have had energy and enthusiasm to spare – but his early electoral forays with UKIP proved frustrating. At the 1997 general election, it was overshadowed by the Referendum Party, backed by multimillionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith. But as the Referendum Party faded, UKIP started to take up some of its hardcore anti-EU support.
In 1999, it saw its first electoral breakthrough – thanks to the introduction of proportional representation for European elections, which made it easier for smaller parties to gain seats. Farage was one of three UKIP members voted in to the European Parliament, representing South East England.
The decision to take up seats in Brussels sparked one of many splits in the UKIP ranks – they were proving to be a rancorous bunch. He scored a publicity coup by recruiting former TV presenter and ex-Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk to be a candidate in the 2004 European elections, but the plan backfired when Kilroy-Silk attempted to take over the party.
It was a turbulent time for UKIP but in that year’s elections it had increased its number of MEPs to 12. In 2006, Mr Farage was elected leader, replacing the less flamboyant Roger Knapman. He was already a fierce critic of Conservative leader David Cameron, who earlier that year had described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. Mr Farage told the press that “nine out of 10” Tories agreed with his party’s views on Europe.
Asked if UKIP was declaring war on the Conservatives, he said: “It is a war between UKIP and the entire political establishment.”
At the 2009 European elections, with Mr Farage becoming a regular fixture on TV discussion programmes, UKIP got more votes than Labour and the Lib Dems, and increased its number of MEPs to 13. But the party knew it could do little to bring about its goal of getting Britain out of the EU from Brussels and Strasbourg – and it had always performed poorly in UK domestic elections.
In an effort to change this, he resigned as leader in 2009 to contest the Buckingham seat held by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
He gained widespread publicity in March 2010 – two months before the election – when he launched an attack in the European Parliament on the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, accusing him of having “the charisma of a damp rag” and “the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.
It raised Farage’s profile, going viral on the internet, but made little difference to his Westminster ambitions. He came third, behind Mr Bercow and an independent candidate.
His chosen successor as leader, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was not suited to the cut-and-thrust of modern political debate and presentation, and UKIP polled just 3.1% nationally.
But there was a far greater personal disaster. On the day of the election a plane carrying him crashed after its UKIP-promoting banner became entangled in the tail fin. He was dragged from the wreckage with serious injuries.
After recovering in hospital, he told the London Evening Standard the experience had changed him: “I think it’s made me more ‘me’ than I was before, to be honest. Even more fatalistic. Even more convinced it’s not a dress rehearsal. Even more driven than I was before. And I am driven.”
Farage decided he wanted to become leader again and was easily voted back after Lord Pearson resigned. His party’s fortunes rose again as Europe, and particularly migration to the UK from EU countries, continued as a fast-growing political issue with the increased numbers following enlargement to include former communist states from Eastern Europe in 2004.
He increased UKIP’s focus on the immigration impact of EU membership, referring to Britain’s “open door” causing congestion on the M4, a Romanian crime wave in London and a shortage of housing, healthcare, school places and jobs for young people.
It led to repeated accusations of racism, described by Farage as “grossly unfair”. His strategy had long been to distance the party from the far right – its constitution bans former BNP members from joining.
Rather, he aimed to be seen as tribune for the disenfranchised, not just the older, comfortably-off middle classes alienated by rapid social change caused by mass immigration, but working-class voters left behind in the hunt for jobs and seemingly ignored by the increasingly professionalised “political class”.
Despite facing vocal protests, which in one high-profile case led to him having to take refuge from what he called “supporters of Scottish nationalism” in an Edinburgh pub in 2013 and on another occasion saw him being chased by “diversity” activists in London in 2015, his efforts saw UKIP’s influence increase.
After winning more than 140 English council seats at the 2013 local election – averaging 25% of the vote in the wards where it was standing – it gained 161 in 2015.
More significantly, the party won the UK’s European election outright, gaining 27.5% of the vote. The momentum gathered pace when Tory defector Douglas Carswell forced a by-election to secure UKIP’s first parliamentary seat, with colleague Mark Reckless following suit shortly afterwards.
Despite gaining 13% of the vote at the general election, with nearly four million people casting a ballot for the party, they only managed to return one MP, Douglas Carswell, with Mark Reckless losing his seat. Farage failed in his bid to win South Thanet, losing out by 3,000 votes to the Conservatives.
Having said during the campaign that he would be “for the chop” if he didn’t win, he duly announced his resignation as party leader on the morning after polling day. However, he left the door open for a possible return by saying he might stand in the leadership contest after he had had the summer off.
Then he surprised some in the party by announcing that he had changed his mind after being “persuaded” by “overwhelming” evidence from UKIP members that they wanted him to remain leader – insisting that he wanted to stick around for the referendum battle ahead.
That decision was vindicated, with Farage playing a key role in the bruising campaign that followed despite being shunned by many Conservatives on the same side of the argument.
His focus on immigration was not to everyone’s liking – a UKIP poster featuring a line of refugees with the words ‘Breaking Point’ caused widespread anger – but the fact that it became a defining issue in the campaign was in no small measure down to him.
The UKIP leader was the first to celebrate victory with an emotional speech in the early hours of the morning – before the sensational result had been declared.
Following the historic EU Leave vote, it was thought that we had seen the back of this divisive figure and that now the job was done, he would retire to the pub and in years to come be found slumped in the corner regaling anyone within earshot about who he used to be and what he did for the country. But to write off Farage in this way is the mistake that everyone in politics has made for years – it would appear that you cannot write off Nigel Farage as, just when you do, he pops back up and redefines himself.
Now the Marmite Man is in line to become the Kingmaker under the tutelage of President Donald Trump, another man who has been written off time and time again but has the knack of engaging the man in the street; a man who against all political scripts, has made the people believe that he will change lives, smash the political elite, bring wealth and prosperity and breathe fresh air into the stale apocalyptic environment that is global politics today.
Farage, it could be claimed, is the catalyst for the total rejection of the status quo around the world with the electorate waking up the fact that this is not how it has to be. A difference can be brought about if only they can find that man or women who will be brave enough to stand up and be counted. Who will bounce back from every vicious attack. Who will survive the media onslaught into their background and come up smelling of roses. Does this remind you of anyone?
History will record these lone figures rising from the swamp – Farage, Trump, Le Pen – as more and more independent individuals rise up to challenge the elite and despite what you or l might think, ultimately this will be a good thing for the world. Ignore the person, look past their foibles and you will see a revolution taking place across the world. Communism didn’t work and, following the grizzly deaths of millions, fell by the wayside.
Democracy isn’t working as the West gets more and more hedonistic and the leaders blindly see their way of life as the only way of life and see fit to impose it on all in sundry. Just think of the term ‘regime change’. So what’s left to turn to in the 21st Century?
Shocking as it might be, Trump, Farage and Le Pen are the future of politics and it is about time the political establishment recognised this, accepted it and got on with it.
Like it or not, Trump is going to change the world and will cause such upset that we will barely be capable of accepting it. Farage has kicked off a tsunami across Europe that will resonate for generations as that great democratic superstate falls by the way side as France, Italy, Holland and others vote to leave and Brussels returns to having all the power of the Isle of Man parish council.
Such jumped up low-grade bank clerks such as Donald Tusk, Herman van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker, who hijacked the Euro Gravy Train to ensure their own malignant powerbases, will be ground into the dust of history – having dragged down the entire European continent with them and given rise to the new generation of world leaders.
The Farage master stroke was to pump Trump’s ego and ingratiate himself with the potential leader of the free world and, as the only British politician in line to kneel and kiss the ring of the victor. His final masterstroke, to date, is that he is the only British politician that Trump will talk to and, like it or not, Farage will be foisted onto the British government as the Trump go-between and l sense l can hear his braying laugh from here.
Through gritted teeth, one has to admire the man. He has weathered constant battenings, arduous and vindictive media assaults, near death experiences, foul insults from all sides of the political class, European attacks and yet, through it all, he not only remains standing as those around him fall but is set to become the most important British politician within the United States and, if Trump has his way, Nigel Farage will carry the title Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America and if he dies, it will be from splitting his sides laughing.