Regular readers of this esteemed organ will be aware that we are currently covering the UK’s EU Referendum campaign almost daily in our own quaint fashion – i.e. commenting upon developments, not reporting upon them – not least because the one ‘fact’ being asserted by politicians on all sides of the debate that we agree with is the importance of its outcome to the future of this country.
To declare my interest, I broadly remain a ‘don’t know’ (or undecided) on the topic.
However, irrespective of the course of the campaign and which arguments which side is gaining the upper ground, I have never lost sight of the view given me over a month ago by someone whose intelligence and grasp of the way these thing work is much superior to mine.
As I waxed lyrical over our lunch about the day-to-day skirmishes between the different camps then occurring, he metaphorically took out his pipe, slowly and methodically prepared a tobacco ‘shot’ and lit it (I wrote ‘metaphorically’ because he doesn’t actually smoke) and calmly advised me that the pre-ordained outcome of the Referendum was going to be ‘Remain’.
How so? Because ‘the Establishment’ regarded that the UK staying in the EU was far too important a matter to the future of our island race to be left to the vagaries of the democratic process. Firstly, if the Referendum vote was ‘Remain’ well then that was the result, end of message. But secondly, if by any chance the vote on the day was de facto ‘Leave’, the result would be fudged, altered and/or tampered with – then publicly announced as a win for ‘Remain’ – and that would be that because, of course, (in good old, stout, integrity-full, British style) ‘the people had spoken and we must accept the result’.
Yesterday, as it happened, at 7.30pm on BBC1, Andrew Neil conducted the latest of his ‘live’ interviews with leading politicians on both sides of the argument – on this occasion the UKIP leader Nigel Farage who is campaigning for ‘Leave’, but not from the official ‘Leave’ unit. Instead he’s part of a satellite (alternative) ‘Leave’ group that bid to be accepted as the official unit and failed to get chosen as such.
For me, over the past five years or so Andrew Neil – who for some can be an acquired taste and, as a regular reader of Private Eye which delights in mocking him for his ego and pomposity, I tended not to be a fan – has become one of the best political interviewers around.
In the bad old days, on The Economist and then eleven years as editor of The Sunday Times and subsequently at Sky TV, he was never shy of giving his personal opinions, but now – whatever they are – he has found a perfect niche as a knowledgeable and heavyweight chairman and interviewer who makes it his business to tease out admissions and confront his ‘victim’ with the opposing point of view.
Currently there is no better regular political television show that BBC2’s Daily Politics and its Sunday counterpart on BBC1 Sunday Politics and it no coincidence that both are fronted by Andrew Neil.
Yesterday, as an aperitif, he presided over a Daily Politics show in which he was joined by female academic Claire Fox who had written a book about the ‘Snowflake Generation’ of modern young women who – despite all the advances of feminism over the last fifty years – now seemed to be adopting the stance that they were ‘victims’ (generally of everything in life) and therefore in need protection from the slightest insult and/or criticism.
In her view the recent phenomenon of student protests against Cecil Rhodes – for being an imperialist – and decisions to exclude possessors of sometime controversial views from being able to speak on campuses because their views were ‘offensive’, were part of a development that was not only wrong but actually counter-productive for the women’s movement. Her thrust was that controversial views should always be aired at universities etc. so that they could be confronted and indeed countered in argument – i.e. to let light and air in upon them, so that those espousing their views could be persuaded of the error of their ways – not just excluded on principle. Life is tough and, whilst parents always want to protect their children against growing up too quickly, you cannot – and should not – protect adults against life’s realities. Are women ‘delicate flowers’ to be cushioned against life, or are they (as she believed was the case) just equal and as capable of dealing with such things as men are.
Neil conducted this part of the programme excellently, drawing out the views – asking for clarification or putting points to the participants – and moving the discussion along when necessary with skill. He also did a separate terrific interview with Labour MP Chuka Umunna (backing ‘Remain’ in the EU Referendum) who was on location in his constituency of Streatham. Both clearly enjoyed it and Neil was deftly drawing out angles and developments in Labour’s official stance on the EU.
But back to last night and Nigel Farage’s stint in Mr Neil’s interviewee chair.
In small doses Mr Farage is an engaging performer and ‘pricker of bubbles’ but he is very definitely a one-trick-pony and, unfortunately for him, the more air-time he gains the greater the opportunity for the viewer or listener to see through his limited range and façade.
If I was a ‘Remainer’ in this current EU Referendum, I’d be doing everything in my power to get Farage in the public eye as often as possible because of his unintended propensity to turn people off.
Further, and I could be wrong on this, I suspect that he had blood pressure and/or other medical issues because – over the course of any sustained campaign – his performances tend to begin well and then gradually deteriorate. Whilst others seem to relax, become more confident and ‘grow’ as things progress, over time Mr Farage looks increasingly tired and puffy in the face and tends towards blustering, floundering or waffling.
Thus it was last night. Mr Neil did his usual thing of bringing up the interviewee’s previous recorded statements and contrasting them with the contradictory things he or she has said more recently – whether the challenges were of principle, or detailed figures that were now wrong or inconsistent, with the interviewee’s current stance.
Mr Farage must have been expecting it. However, the longer the interview went on (it was a 30- minute show), the longer and more ragged his answers became. The impression this viewer gained was that, had Mr Farage’s cause been a migrant boat in mid-Mediterranean, it was shipping increasing amounts of water – in response to which his ever more frantic attempts to bail it out were clearly a losing battle.
I’d give Mr Farage a 4 out of 10 for last night’s appearance. He has become a diminished and increasingly irrelevant political figure during this EU Referendum campaign.