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The Politics of Farage and Reform is No Joke of a Matter – The Established Media Must Learn Its Lessons and Start Holding Them to Account

The normalisation of racism and dog-whistles will only get worse if the press continues to treat Farage as an entertaining figure representing the ‘real views’ of the British people – it must stop, writes Byline Times’ Editor

Nigel Farage on the 2024 General Election campaign trail. Photo: Jill ODonnell/Alamy

Responding to an undercover investigation by Channel 4 exposing Reform party activists’ racist and homophobic comments on the election campaign trail, one line in particular by its Leader Nigel Farage stood out even as it could be easily missed.

Asked what he thought of comments that referred to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as a “f**cking P*ki”, a Pride flag as “degenerate”, and that people crossing the Channel should be shot, Farage said: “In most cases, they’re just speaking like ordinary folk.”

He said his party was not “perfect” and compared the scandal to the “betting ring that is the modern Conservative Party”, while Reform said those making “unacceptable comments” would no longer be part of its campaign.

But, amid these statements, Farage saw it fit to also refer to those making the remarks as “ordinary folk”. This matters.

“We had one or two candidates that have said things they shouldn’t have said,” Farage told the BBC. “In most cases, they’re just speaking like ordinary folk. They’re not part of the mainstream political Oxbridge speak, we understand that. In some cases, one or two people let us down and we let them go.” 

This has nothing to do with “political Oxbridge speak”. Faced with reprehensible behaviour from members of his party, Farage chose to sound a dog-whistle – with the underlying suggestion that these comments were along the lines of ‘just what normal people think’. It was Farage subliminally saying, to those who wanted to hear it, summoning his oft-repeated mantra: these Reform members were simply saying what other people are afraid to. 

The comment came just weeks after Farage said that Rishi Sunak “doesn’t understand our culture” after the Prime Minister left the 80th anniversary international commemorations of D-Day early.

As a journalist outside of the established media, I am thankful for the Channel 4 investigation team for doing the job that they are meant to. While Byline Times and other publications have run a number of articles on Reform party candidates’ discriminatory views, footage capturing members’ real beliefs presents incontrovertible evidence of the fact that Farage’s party attracts those holding more extreme sentiments. Why it does requires just as much journalistic focus.

As a young woman of colour, I watched the footage and read of Farage’s reaction with a visceral feeling of fear. I believe this will also be the reality of countless people from minority backgrounds who watch on as the normalisation of such base thinking continues. That Farage should hold any position of prominence in British politics and use it to say such things is deeply concerning for us. 

While the exemplary work of Channel 4 has shown the impact of the fourth estate in action, as Byline Times has consistently highlighted in recent years, this is sadly all too rare.

The views of figures such as Farage have consequences for our democracy – not only in terms of political decisions such as Brexit, but the wider political-social culture in which we all live – and it is the role of the established press to hold him and his party to account. To excavate the carefully-crafted nuances of his comments. To question him thoroughly on how he has been shaped politically, and where the views he has espoused for many years come from. 

We saw an example of what a more challenging approach can achieve in Farage’s recent comments on the Ukraine war in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson. But, as readers of Byline Times will know, Farage’s connections to Russia have been worthy of longstanding questioning. Why is this only happening now, and even then, in the specific context of Russia’s full invasion of its neighbour?

Farage is not ‘good copy’. The man down the pub with a pint who will provide a few colourful quotes. The celebrity politician who entertains and says it like it is. The man who is given generous media platforms because he represents the will of the real Brit. The joker of the pack always relishing a chance to disrupt.

The joke is – and always has been – on the established media that is all too happy to project him as these things to the public.

Like his friend across the Atlantic, Donald Trump, he is a serious political player when the influence he has exerted on the agenda of the right of British politics and, thus, on all of our lives in recent years, is considered. He may play up his ‘marginal’ status, but he realises he is anything but. And he does not need to win a seat in Parliament for his voice to be heard. For all of these reasons, he must not be given an easy ride. 

As the conservative political commentator Peter Oborne observes in this month’s print edition of Byline Times: “None of the coverage [of him announcing his leadership of Reform] paid any attention to Farage’s repellent and deeply disturbing record of… support for racists… It would be unwise to forget that Farage adopted Enoch Powell as his hero from a young age, and remains his most prominent political disciple…

“Whatever happens, Keir Starmer’s Labour is set to win the election with a considerable majority. But I worry about the dark medium-term consequences if Starmer fails to deliver – and not necessarily through any fault of his own…

“For the first time in my life, it is possible to look forward and envisage a sequence of events that may turn Britain fascist.”

The question is then: when will the established press learn the lessons of the recent past, consider how it has itself aided the corrosion of our democracy in these last years, and actually do its job as the ultimate check and balance on the currents of hate and division?  

Because, for minorities like me, hearing one of Farage’s “ordinary folk” call the Prime Minister of this country a “f**cking P*ki” is no laughing matter. It is terrifying. 

Byline Times will continue to do what it can to ensure that extreme elements in our politics are never treated as if they are a ‘joke’ of an issue. 

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