Nigel Farage is in trouble yet again, and one would think he ought to have learned by now.
Mind you, Nigel would get in trouble with the media of any political hue even if he said that the sky is usually blue, except at night when it’s black, or on a cloudy day when it’s grey.
The Guardian would scream that such colourist statements are a sign of incipient fascism. The Independent would add that at sundown the sky is sometimes red, reflecting its readers’ politics, but obviously not Nigel’s. The Telegraph would chide the poor man for keeping his head up in the clouds. And The Times would suggest that there’s something of the night about Nigel, for his heart is black.
Lurking behind the text would be the subtext that, as it often does, would convey the real meaning: Farage doesn’t always behave the way our political elites expect a politician to behave. Hence he threatens the elites’ secure hold on power, which is bound to unite them against him.
They have no principles they wouldn’t drop in a second for a couple of percentage points in the polls. What they describe as their political philosophies are simply the various paths they’ve chosen to get to power.
When an outsider like Nigel Farage looks threatening to the elites, they’ll forget their minute differences for the sake of this towering similarity – hence the vituperative and often mendacious attacks on UKIP in every paper.
The most threatening thing about Nigel is that sometimes (by no means always) he dares to speak the truth, thus proving he’s unfit for public office. For the only scathing comment we ever hear about a politician’s statement is “you can’t say that”. Not “it’s not true” but “you can’t say that” – regardless of the truth.
True or false simply doesn’t come into it. There’s no such thing as truth. There’s only obeying the totalitarian diktat of political correctness, which is these day a sine qua non of political success.
This time Nigel found himself in the soup for suggesting in a radio interview that he’d rather live next to a German than to a Romanian.
That undoubtedly is good news for Mrs Farage, considering she’s German. But it’s rotten news for Mr Farage: he committed the terrible faux pas of saying something that most people know but would be afraid to say.
Personally, I prefer to judge people individually and not collectively. Thus I’d rather live next door to a Romanian doctor than to a German lout. By the same token, I’d rather live next to a quiet Eskimo than to an Englishman whose stereo blares what most Englishmen regard as music.
But yes, if you held a gun to my head and forced me to generalise, I’d have to admit that the closer my neighbours are to me culturally and socially, the better I feel. So do all the same hacks who’ve got their claws into Nigel.
Most people don’t mind diversity, but not necessarily on their own doorstep. Hence I occasionally indulge my taste for ethnic excitement by going to Brick Lane for a curry. But I wouldn’t want to live there – and not because I have anything against people from the sub-continent, which I don’t.
It’s just that when I’m at home I don’t seek excitement and diversity. I’d rather trade them for a nice, secure feeling that my neighbours are more or less like me, which is to say more or less predictable and unthreatening. It may be something as simple as having a neighbour whose nod denotes assent and not, as in the case of Bulgarians, denial.
More typically, however, things aren’t quite so simple. Using the example that got Nigel in trouble, the Germans are in general culturally closer to the British than the Romanians are.
I use the word ‘culture’ in a broad sense, to include things like intuitive attitudes to legality, business practices, hygiene, politics, social interactions and what not. ‘In general’ is an important disclaimer, for obviously some Romanians are more civilised than some Germans.
But collectively the Germans are a couple of generations removed from their outburst of satanic beastliness, whereas the Romanians aren’t. Three generations of them, including the present one, have lived under either fascism or communism, and for the purposes of this argument the difference between the two is irrelevant.
For both fascism and communism have a deep, usually lifelong, corrupting effect on even those who dare resist, and it takes more than one generation to mitigate it. I’m speaking from personal experience here, for I grew up under a regime I deeply resented and at times actively fought.
Yet it has taken me decades in the West to go native in my intuitive attitudes – and my wife claims the job still isn’t quite done. Now imagine someone who neither fought against the corrupting effects of communism as recklessly as I did nor grew up speaking English and reading English books.
This describes most people, as I hope you’ll believe without my having to produce statistical evidence. So yes, if asked to generalise, not only Nigel Farage but also you, me, anyone would rather live next to a German than to a Romanian.
His statement is thus completely unobjectionable, at least in its denotation. But it’s connotation that reigns supreme nowadays, and Nigel has committed an unpardonable sin.
He said what most people feel but have been trained to be ashamed of. A slight tug on their psychological wire activates a Pavlovian response – you can’t say that! Especially because it’s true.