SO here we are, this is July 2021 – extraordinary, isn’t it? Nigel Farage is still so desperate for attention that he’ll sail out into the Channel to call people on a blow-up dinghy cheapskates and speculate about whether a gust of wind might end their lives.
I suppose we should be glad he didn’t take a wave machine with him, inspired by some of the ideas that have been floated by Priti Patel’s Home Office team. That would certainly have helped boost the GB News ratings.
The Telegraph recently reported that Andrew Neil’s new broadcasting venture was attracting fewer viewers than the Horror Channel, which risks giving the team ideas. If you can’t beat them, join them. People want to watch horror? Oh, Farage and co can provide it. If they get any more desperate they’ll be buying up inflatables for some kind of psychopathic aquatic hybrid of Black Mirror, Gladiators and It’s A Knockout.
Bizarrely, the former Brexit Party leader’s main objection to the group of souls bobbing on the water behind him seemed to be that their tiny boat was really crap, had no engine and had also “probably been stolen”. Maybe he was concerned the sight of people with no money in such a precarious position might elicit sympathy. Fortunately for him, no-one in their right mind would worry about the plight of some boat-pinching bogeymen, would they?
It’s also really not clear how he expects us to react to the confident assertions that they “can’t afford the fare” and “haven’t paid people traffickers”. Is that … bad? I didn’t have Farage pegged as a champion of human trafficking, officiously demanding proof of purchase like a power-tripping bus conductor, and yet he seems strangely vexxed by the idea of anyone trying to cut out the middle-man.
He also appears callously detached from the reality of this life-or-death situation – even when he is physically located only metres away from it. “They’ve got a lovely day,” he said, turning to look at the people in the dinghy. “If the weather was to puff up, that’d be the end of that lot.” A wave of the hand, and dismissive gurn, and straight into the pitch for his teatime broadcast slot.
“That lot” – them, others, thieves. “The end” – death by drowning, pairs of lungs filling with water until gasping for breath is no longer possible. Remember though, they stole that boat. Probably.
When Farage isn’t doing free sales pitches for the kind of folk who can procure decent boats with powerful engines, he’s worrying about the “deeply unpleasant criminal gangs” who are facilitating cross-Channel journeys. Earlier this week he put it to Steve Valdez-Symonds, the director of Amnesty UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme, that members of the public helping people out of boats – such as those volunteering with grassroots monitoring group Channel Rescue – were aiding and abetting traffickers.
Valdez-Symonds patiently pointed out that human traffickers tend not to cede control of those they intend to exploit on arrival in the UK, allowing them to bolt for freedom, while people-smugglers take little interest in the fate of those whose journeys they set up.
Perhaps Farage imagines there’s a Tripadvisor-style rating system for such operators, with those who survive the crossing logging on to rate the services for comfort, cleanliness and value for money, along with warmth of welcome at the beach. He would have the UK public believe that immigration and asylum is his specialist subject, but he’s badly out of his depth in the role of interviewing people who actually do know what they’re talking about.
Not that he lets this faze him – God give us all the confidence of a loathsome man with a handful of soundbites and a microphone. When the facts and figures don’t support his insinuation that people like those in the dinghy are likely “bogus” and Britain is being overrun, he brings out photographs and tries his hand at body language analysis instead.
With all the authority of a 13-year-old scrutinising a celebrity gossip magazine, he declares that a man with arms aloft on a beach after arriving in Kent “looked like he’d won the lottery”. It’s an interesting assessment from a chap who is regularly pictured looking deranged with delight simply to be holding a pint of beer, and once again it’s not clear what his point is. Should those disembarking look unimpressed, indifferent, neither up nor down about the fact they are still alive?
Farage would prefer them to look “humble and grateful”, like the Ugandan refugees who arrived in the UK in the 1970s. I’m struggling to locate any images of those people perched on inflatable boats or scrambling up beaches, although the BBC did report in September 1972 that those arriving a Stansted Airport in were “exhausted by the nine-hour flight and the harassment by President Amin’s troops in their last hours in Uganda.”
So let’s get this clear: those fleeing persecution must be desperate but not too determined, poor but honest, grateful to be alive but not visibly so. As for humble – I’m surprised that word is even in the vocabulary of a shameless egomaniac like Farage.