The Day We Met Nigel Farage

Posted on Nov 8, 2014 by


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With the world and his wife banging his door for an interview, we managed to blag one with Nigel Farage.

Meeting him was a total fluke. We booked a holiday in Nancy, it’s in France, then found it does not have an international airport so had to fly to Strasbourg. We were hard pressed to find a hotel room. Must be something on we said. There was. The EU parliament was sitting. 751 MEPs were in town.

As we were there, we decided to sit in on a session. As if! Groups have to apply three months in advance in writing. Individuals have next to no chance. We head butted all our local MEPs Can you arrange a visit? Can we meet Nigel Farage? Most didn’t reply. One gave an emphatic no, one, the delightful Stuart Agnew, said yes. As it turned out, it would have been advisable for him to also have said no. What a palaver. For him. Not us. We enjoyed the drama.

We arranged to meet Stuart at the Parliament building 8am Tuesday 16 September. We went by tram. He walked the four miles from town. As a farmer he feels he has to earn his breakfast. We were greeted by armed guards and told to report to Security (tighter than an airport). Two German uniformed female officers with crew cuts but no English, photocopied our passports. Stuart was told to take us to the Visitors Centre (marked by a sheet of A4 Blue Tacked on a window) with orders not to leave our side until we left the building. Stuarts tells us he will try to wangle us an invitation to dinner with UKIP MEPs.

The building is impossible to navigate. Stuart got lost a couple of times. With escalators out of action, we crossed bridges which lead nowhere. Telecommunications are a joke and MEPs climb umpteen flights of stairs rather than risk being trapped in the notorious lifts. In 2002, the water supply was contaminated by an outbreak of Legionnaires and in 2008, the ceiling collapsed.

Ensconced in the Visitors’ Gallery, we peer down at Mr Farage. The debate (sic) is about the EU, Mr Putin and the Ukraine. He told Parliament it is guilty for what happened because they persuaded Ukraine that joining the EU is a good idea. This, he said, resulted in people waving EU flags while effecting a Coup d’ État. The threat to Europe, he said, is not Putin but Islamic extremists who slice off the heads of Westerners. He said Putin is on our side against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

That he managed to get so much across in two minutes eleven seconds was miraculous. Speaking time is allotted to groups according to its number of MEPs. Nigel Farage gets a measly two and half minutes, some get one. How can stand up, speak up, shut up with the Countdown Clock ticking away be a debate especially as Mr Farage does not write his speeches, uses no notes and speaks off the cuff?

In the evening we head for the restaurant. Outside, Stuart, looking distinctly uncomfortable, is in earnest conversation with a tall chap. Tall chap turns out to be UKIP Press Officer. He politely explains that Stuart should not have invited us. We have not been vetted. We could be anyone. We could, heaven forfend, be journalists (irony – until fairly recently I was).

He explained that UKIP is victim to mud-slinging, inside the restaurant is a group of like-minded people wanting to socialise without looking over their shoulders. A very apologetic Stuart offers to take us for dinner somewhere else. We say that as we do not know each other, conversation might be a little strained and persuade him to join his colleagues.

Press Officer said to come back after dinner and he will introduce us to Mr Farage. Result. We said Stuart meant well, he is an innocent abroad. That he is, says Press Officer, he has already been turned over by the Daily Mail. Goodness! Extra-maritals? No, nothing like that. He happened to remark that in his opinion women who have families tend not to be ambitious. As someone who only realised after having children that she forgot to have career, I go along with that.

We return after dinner to find, as per outside all restaurants, the smokers. Nigel Farage, protected by day by armed guards, protected by night by his Press Officer, is, as usual, laughing, surrounded by comrades in arms, cigarette in hand. I poke him in the back saying ‘where’s your minder? That could have been a knife!’ He laughs. Since he almost lost it, he does not take life, or at least his life, too seriously. I say given his predilection for nicotine and alcohol and falling out of planes he will die soon so, given that he is UKIP and UKIP is him, has he chosen his successor? He laughs. I ask how he is coping with Fame. He laughs. Just Life isn’t it, he says.

When he is a Westminster MP his job will be a doddle after fifteen years hurtling back and fore to Brussels and Strasbourg. He works a 100 hour week.

Press Officer offers to take our photograph. As we are leaving Nigel to the rest of his evening, Jolly Roger Helmer introduces himself. ‘Nigel’ we tell him ‘is the only politician we have ever wanted to meet’. ‘Politician!’ he laughs ‘Nigel is not a politician! He’s a character!’ Turns out Roger is too. Four weeks later poor old Roger was turned over by The Sun. Photographed visiting a massage parlour he said MEPs are entitled to a private life. After just one half day in The Palace of Europe, we too could have done with a massage.

We took to Mr Farage. He does not come over as power hungry. Impervious to what people think of him, he is not really a rebel with a cause, just a chap with a message which is not batten down the hatches, it’s let’s claw back control of immigration. Lucky old Thanet having Nigel for an MP instead of mine, the eminently forgettable Peter Lillie.

We did not take to the EU Parliament. It is not possible to go there without thinking of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth (whose purpose is to maintain the illusion) or Dickens’s Circumlocution Office: ‘all the business of the country went through the Circumlocution Office except the business that never came out of it’.
Extract. Chapter Ten. Little Dorritt.
No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered … nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence on the part of the Circumlocution Office.

For fifteen years Nigel Farage has been telling us that The EU Emperor is not wearing any clothes. If more jemmied their way into the EU Parliament, more would know how true that is. After just one morning witnessing just one debate (sic) at a Plenary Session we get it.

The folk tale is about a boy who told the truth and broke the illusion. He saw what everyone else was pretending not to see. Hans Christian Andersen said it’s about having the courage of one’s convictions. Scholars say the story is a metaphor for collective denial. A belief survives only if everyone maintains the illusion, a situation where no one believes but everyone believes that everyone else knows what they are doing. Anderson’s next story was about an ugly duckling turning into a swan.

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