Populists Do Not Want To Make Us Better

[I have to put a ‘featured image’ at the head of posts on this WordPress theme. Which is usually a nice touch, I think. But sometimes you want to talk about Nigel Farage, and it’s hardly fair to subject readers to that gurning goon as a featured image. So you can have some nice abstract red… abstract, instead.]

Odious jingoist Nigel Farage made sure to entitle himself and his kids the rights he’s worked so hard to deny you and yours.

In an interview in which the family’s German passports were raised, he was keen to stress just how very British his children felt:

“[T]hat link to the German side of their family is clearly important to them but their identity, when it comes to a football game, it’s pretty clear which side they’re going to support.”

A football game.

And I’m sitting here now, struggling to work out whether he, Farage, is really that brick-headed and oblivious, or whether he just believes the British people are and knows he can exploit it. Whether he thinks that we as a nation are so bumblingly myopic, so superficial and simple-minded, that the only way we can grasp the concept of identity is with reference to bloody football.

He goes on to add that Britain actually lost the Second World War: “We were the ones who lost everything,” he fatuously said, after an extraordinary seventy-three years of the war not being on any more and us very clearly not having lost everything.

Fartler. (I am unashamed.)

But this sort of mendacious bullshit is a populists’ bread and butter. Farage evidently knows that the UK is to a considerable degree stuck in its wartime past, and that that’s useful to people like him. The national trauma of the Second World War is one that Britain, unlike many of the countries in Europe, has never really been able to square with in seven and a half decades. Contrary to Farage’s assertion of our national hard-done-to-dom, we did, in fact, win — but where war is concerned winning is never sunshine and roses. Winning a war isn’t a happy thing. It’s just slightly less hellish than losing. Our losses were catastrophic, and the physical damage done to our country was immense. But the psychological damage was deep, too, and it’s something the fact of our victory, and our endless History Channel documentaries on how brilliant it all was and didn’t we do well, seems to have papered over to some extent.

As a nation, even those of us who didn’t fight in it, weren’t even born for it, we’re still stuck in the War, replaying the fears and the anger and resentment over and over and over again, and having it replayed for us, endlessly, by a tabloid media obsessed with it. This obsession is, as Farage hinted, particularly prominent in football — or at least the tabloid media coverage of football, where matches between England and Germany are invariably presented in 1940s wartime terms.

And I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I don’t think it a coincidence that in the run-up to the EU Referendum, our new, high-tech, futuristic, forward-looking polymer £5 notes were released with their reverse side featuring… Winston Churchill! Of course! With all the wealth of prominent British people we could have gone for, at a time when our vital relationship with Europe was at the forefront of the public consciousness, even our money made a statement: “This was the man who held Germany at bay. This is the man we need again now.”

(No, I don’t for one moment dispute Churchill’s contribution to the situation at that time. But again, that was nearly three-quarters of a century ago, and I firmly believe our refusal to loosen our grip on him is a symptom of a national pathology.)

Farage is one of a current generation of political turds who’ve somehow floated to the top of societies around the world, and are proving immensely difficult to flush. Exploiting a long period of insecurity in the wake of the financial crisis, like populists through the ages these bad actors have successfully turned public insecurity into fear, and the fear into rage, and then directed the public to turn that rage onto irrational targets – but targets that, nevertheless, suit these populists’ agendas. Foreigners, of course, are a tried-and-tested favourite: Europe is to blame for successive UK governments’ economic mismanagement; Muslims are all terrorists plotting to blow us up — and so, alarmingly, on.

The sad thing is that it works. It’s always worked. Make people frightened, identify a danger that suits your needs (especially if it’s not a real one you might end having to actually address) and you can rely on that fear to drive the people to surrender all the values their society supposedly stood for. So we rush to ‘defend’ ourselves from the imagined or pretended threat from this or that vulnerable minority group — Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, black-and-minority-ethnic people, ‘immigrants’, etc. — all whilst huddling up ever closer to the supposed ‘strength’ of the person or people who actually represent the real threat: the ones who want to strip us of our rights and freedoms by turning us against each other and occupying us with divisive in-fighting rather than with preservation of our liberties.

It works. It always works.

And there’s always another populist wankbag just around the corner. (Legal Note: Ciaran Hinds is an actor, here portraying the dictatorial twatbracket in question, G. Julius Caesar, Esquire.)

Democracy, rule of law, process and procedure can all be done away with, we’re told, because of this or that “emergency” — even though, as should surely be obvious, times of stress and crisis are precisely when we should be holding most tightly to those things. Because they are the things that make us civilised. They are the things that bring us peace; that enable us to build a tolerant, truly free, and just society. They are the things that make us better.

Populists do not want to make us better. They want to make themselves better: ‘better’ in their minds meaning richer, more powerful, more influential. But they know the words to say, the symbols to display, the fears to exploit and the sentiments to appeal to to get what they want, and they feel no shame about employing all of it. But populism hurts societies. We’ve seen it many, many times through history, as democracy after democracy has fallen to dictatorship in the name of keeping the people safe and secure, and Making The Country Great Again™.

A country, a state, a nation, is nothing if it’s not its people and its values. And however much you might revere a flag and sing an anthem and even (*shudder*) hold your hand over your heart when it plays, if your first concern is not for the people of your country — all the people, including the poor, and those who don’t look or talk or worship like you do, and people who are just visiting — and defending the values that protect the rights and dignity of all of those people, then as far as I am concerned you are no patriot at all. Farage, for all his self-adulating guff about Britain this and Britain that, is the polar opposite of a patriot.

And now I’m really pissed. I wanted to use this last hour to write a story, or at least part of one, and instead I catch sight of the news and spend my time doing this. Fuck.

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