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The Big Questions Nigel Farage Should be Asked by the Media

Why is a party with so few elected representatives and even fewer ideas being given such an easy ride?

Nigel Farage takes questions from the press during the general election campaign. Photo: Mark Thomas / Alamy

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Despite Farage not running in this election and despite his new party Reform, winning just two seats in the recent local elections, the former Brexit party leader has been all over the media during the first week of this campaign.

Just like in 2016, when he was all over the airwaves, despite having absolutely no role in what would happen after the referendum, Farage is seemingly irresistible to the media.

So, for the first time in a long time, I broke my habit of avoiding watching his appearances for the sake of my blood pressure, to try to figure out why. What I learned from his appearance on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday, tells us as much about the failures of that media ecosystem, and those of the major political parties, as it does about the man himself and his latest protest vehicle, Reform.

Here are the big questions raised by his appearance.

How Would he Actually ‘Stop the Boats’?

    The disastrous failure of the Conservative party’s deterrence policies against asylum seekers is helping to fuel Farage’s campaign. Over 10,000 people have entered the UK on small boats this year, decisively proving what experts predicted all along: that even the vilest hostility will never make refugees disappear.

    Farage is effective at highlighting the problem and the Government’s utter failure to get the issue under control, rightly trashing the Rwanda plan for the ineffective gimmick it is.

    But while he hammers home the chaos and suffering that our current system is producing in the Channel, he comes unstuck when it comes to offering any new solutions.

    Farage repeatedly draws on the thousands of people who have drowned in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean to bolster his supposedly humanitarian concerns on the issue (presumably these are more rhetorically effective than the mere dozens who have drowned in the Channel).

    How ironic, then, that his only solution to this outrage is to suggest pushing back vessels at sea and escorting them to French territory. How that would protect anyone from the dangers of the Mediterranean crossing is presumably for others to worry about.

    But are push backs to France in anyway credible? If anything, the Mediterranean example ought to lead to the opposite conclusion: illegal pushbacks are practiced from Greek shores and at Eastern European land borders. The EU has struck deal after deal with North African and Middle Eastern transit countries of the type Farage wants with France, to contain and pull back refugees – yet the crossings and the deaths continue.

    And that’s where economic and political strength is powerfully weighted to the European side of negotiations. Attempting to strike the same kind of deal with France would obviously come with much more serious reciprocal consequences. But consequences are never what Farage has to deal with.

    The real consequences of the failure to offer safe routes to travel for asylum seekers are paid with the lives of those desperate, homeless people who Farage uses as a prop in his campaigns.

    What Would he Really do with the NHS?

      In a conversation that leaps from the recruitment crisis in our NHS to the supposed need to reduce immigrant numbers with no sense of irony whatsoever, Farage excels.

      He is happy to deride migrant workers as “a mass of unskilled labour” but bypasses directly talking about the largest-growing group of migrant workers, social care workers. The impact of reducing their numbers would be longer NHS waiting lists and higher care costs for our elderly and vulnerable. Our aging population needs the support of migrant workers, both in the literal sense that they are the ones undertaking their care, but also because they pay taxes into the public purse to fund pensions and public services.

      While Farage derides “cheap labour” he is never pressed to propose a new funding model for social care. Light on policy always, but who can blame him when the Reform policy is as absurd as charging businesses for employing migrants. The question of how care home providers would be expected to meet that cost is obviously a tricky one, which is probably why he suggested at a press conference this week that they could be exempted from the new charges. Yet how that would leave his broader plans for the NHS remains a mystery, aside from proposing that we junk its current public funding model.

      Farage often leans on the idea that there are enough people among the sick and disabled in Britain to be able to take on the work that migrants do. Anyone who remembers his disastrous “pick for Britain” drive to replace migrant farm workers with locals – essentially none of whom turned out to be willing or up to the job – should know this is a fantasy.

      Reform UK Candidate Accused of Posting ‘Vile Racist and Hateful’ Tweets and Sharing Posts From Far-Right Leaders

      Andrew Raw, the Reform UK candidate for Darlington, is the latest member of the party to be criticised for his social media posts

      Who is Going to Build the Houses we Need?

        The fantasy continues the more you sift through the soundbites to grasp at shreds of policy. Farage argues it would have been impossible for successive governments over recent decades to build sufficient affordable housing because they didn’t know how many immigrants would come to the country.

        The vast majority of immigrants come to the UK on visas granted by the Government, however, so it’s obviously untrue to suggest that they have no control over numbers. The decision over the years to issue a high number of visas while failing to hit house-building targets is one that has been made with eyes wide open. The decision to cut family rights of migrant workers in order to reduce overall numbers, without having to grapple with the impact of reducing the number of workers themselves is also theirs, and the resulting need for just as many – if smaller – households in the country remains unaddressed.

        Neither does Farage feel the need to engage with the irony of crippling skills shortages in key construction roles that have impacted the speed and quality of house-building since Brexit.


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        Why are we Still Being Forced to Listen to Him?

          Rishi Sunak has so far failed to set the agenda for the election campaign that he set into motion, while Keir Starmer is struggling to inspire voters either. The smaller parties are not being given a proportionate voice, despite in some ways being the ones offering fresher proposals for the real change our country needs.

          Into this void has stepped Farage. His presence on the centre stage justified but barely legitimised by his confusing position as spokesperson for Reform, a party for whom he is not standing.

          He is a great media performer, but not a man with any real ability to enact positive change in our country. He can always outrun politicians trying to keep up by taking another step, demanding another group of migrants be sacrificed for the sake of keeping him relevant.

          We need politicians to able to stand up to his, but they can’t when they have already effectively caved in to the underlying logic of his demands. Both Conservatives and Labour respond to the issue from the exact same starting point: that immigration is a problem, and that fixes must somehow be found to reduce it, despite that creating vastly more problems for the country than it solves.

          This consensus is in stark contrast to opinion polls which show that over the past decade attitudes to immigration among the public have shifted immensely, and are far more nuanced than what is on offer from either major party, or Reform.

          The consensus across our politics on this issue is Farage’s greatest achievement. It leaves the public without anyone making the case against him on their own terms, but instead constantly playing catch-up in an unwinnable race to the bottom.

          For the sake of the country, someone needs to take Farage on from the starting point of opposing his basic hostility to migrants.

          Until that happens, our politicians will only keep aiming for a set of goalposts which he can always shift a little further to the right.

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