The news last night that Nigel Farage had resigned as leader of UKIP, having helped lead Britain out of the European Union, made me cast my mind back to the time we were briefly united through that most British of mediums, cricket, and he made a rather unpleasant impression on me.
About a decade ago, I was living in London and playing for a social team made up largely of journalists. One summer we went on a weekend tour to Yorkshire, the key fixture of which was a game in a village called Thixendale. It was a picture-postcard sort of place, nestled in amongst the dales, tiny, with a few streets, a pub and a very beautiful cricket ground, fringed with trees. It was, unusually for the UK, a hot summer, and I remember everything there as painted in the colours of green and gold, especially the bare, hazy hills.
The Thixendale cricket team was organised, as I recall, by Farage and his fellow UKIP member of the European Parliament, Godfrey Bloom. Bloom was a Yorkshire gent of the good old-fashioned sexist type, and had recently made headlines by somehow getting himself onto the women’s rights committee of the European Parliament and promptly declaring that one of the key issues for women was that they didn’t “clean behind the fridge enough”.
Farage himself didn’t play much part in the cricket match, but he did turn up wearing, all of things, a pith helmet. For those who don’t know, pith helmets are the solid white hats once worn by British explorers and colonialists in hot climates. It was an extraordinary sight, as if Farage had stepped right out of the last days of the British Raj in India. At any rate he soon went to sleep underneath said helmet.
His son, however, was playing for his team as a bowler, wearing a shirt with the crest of Dulwich College, the elite high school he attended. Farage senior had himself been a pupil there in the 80s, where, according to recent reports, he displayed at an early age “racist and neo-fascist views” and sang Hitler Youth songs.
Bloom, meanwhile, distinguished himself by shouting condescending remarks from the sidelines. His team had a woman playing for them who had previously been a British hockey representative, I think, and as she dispatched one of my deliveries to the cover fence I recall Bloom shouting out, “Good shot … for a girlie.”
Did I, at the time, have any inkling that Farage in particular would one day help lead Britain out of Europe and into its current state of leaderless chaos? Of course not. But some of the key themes of his campaign could have been deduced from that day, in particular the nostalgia for the age when Britain really was ‘great’ – which is to say white, male-dominated, colonialist, and secure in its imperial place in the world.
As many people have already pointed out, much of the Brexit vote came from people who’ve been left behind by globalisation. It’s no surprise that they’re angry; I would be too if the industries in my area had been destroyed and there appeared to be no plan for how my region or class would ever recover, beyond some investment in training and a vague exhortation to work harder so as to compete with the millions of skilled workers coming out of India and China.
The European Union isn’t to blame for any of that, but when people are, quite reasonably, very angry, they’ll look for easy targets; and so they were open to Farage’s seductive, comforting message that everything would be right again if Britain ‘took back control’, that the country could somehow wind back time and keep out all those nasty foreigners.
I have no idea what’s going to happen next, or where the UK will end up. But it does need to find a better vision for controlling the forces of globalisation, including some new thinking about the role of government in shaping the economy. Otherwise it will continue to fall prey to people like Farage, whose only vision is a basically backwards-looking one, a picture of Britain as it perhaps once was but never should have been, and cannot be again.