Features Australia

We all need a Nigel or two

Australia’s lacklustre politicians could take a leaf from the hero of Brexit

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

Nigel Farage has just ended his career as a member of the European parliament. His tenure ended because Britain’s time in the European Union came to an end on January 31st and no one – and I mean no one – was more responsible for that UK departure from the EU superstate than Nigel. If you have not yet done so, go and look up Mr Farage’s farewell speech to the European parliament. It’s blunt. It’s funny. It articulates out loud the plain truth that the EU is not just undemocratic; it’s actively anti-democratic. Nigel does this where so many others shy away from stating the emperor has no clothes. Towards the end of his farewell speech, Mr Farage pulls out a Union Jack flag from beneath his seat, as do all the other Brexit MEP members seated all around him. They start waving them. And then you get a perfect little metaphor for all that’s wrong with the EU.

The equivalent of the Speaker turns off Farage’s microphone. Why? Apparently he’s breached some rule of the humourless, bureaucratic, super-centralist body about national flags. You’re not allowed to display them it transpires. It’s all about forging ‘an ever closer union’ by bureaucratic diktat. So the Irish MEP pseudo Speaker cuts off his microphone. No sense of humour; no sense of perspective; no sense of how this will look to those who believe, like me, all of the charges Farage has directed at the EU. So Farage and his band of Brexit party MEPs just keep waving their flags and march out triumphantly, cheering and waving.

But my larger point here is about Nigel Farage. You see he has spent virtually the last quarter of a century of his life in politics devoting himself to getting Britain out of the EU. He’s never wanted to become prime minister. Or take some highly paid EU position. Or travel about à la Julie Bishop hobknobbing with the various permutations of Davos Man and Woman. He’s just spent over two decades fighting to bring his own job, as an EU MEP with its eye-watering perks and benefits, to an end. Yep, Farage ran a couple of times for the British parliament and lost. And yep, on most orthodox ledgers of political success he’s been a failure. A dud. Heck, he’s never even had his own chauffeur-driven car and entourage of Uriah Heepesque-sycophantic political staffers.

And yet, Nigel Farage is probably the most successful British politician since Thatcher. He’s changed Britain and he’s changed the world. He’s reinvigorated the idea of the nation state without which, in my view, democracy simply cannot function in any proper way that includes imposing accountability on decision-makers.

I mention that Farage was more responsible for Brexit happening than anyone else. That’s true. Without an out-and-out Leave political party, one that slaughtered all the others in last year’s EU elections, the Tory party would have remained captive to its Remainer MPs; it would never have allowed Boris to become leader (because he was as generally hated by his colleagues as was Churchill back in the late 1930s); it would have folded and delivered a Theresa May fake Brexit that left Britain subject to all EU rules and to the European Court of Justice. It was the fact of Farage and his Brexit party (and before that Ukip) that earlier forced David Cameron to hold the 2016 referendum and then last year forced the Tories (to avoid obliteration) to pick Boris and to go all out for Leave.

Back after the 2016 referendum Nigel Farage left politics saying his job was done. He returned only after it became apparent the Tories were cheating on Brexit. He’s left again, subject to the caveat that if Boris capitulates he’ll come back (and in my view help destroy a Tory party that will be seen to have lied one too many times).

Now compare all that to the vast preponderance of Australian politicians. Look at them and ask if more than a handful care about anything, really care, other than their own re-election and possible future sinecures. I’m serious about that question. Did you know that in research in a book soon to come out (not by me) it is calculated that in the current parliament about 45 per cent of MPs are former political staffers? Throw in bureaucrats, ex-party employees, union officials and the like and you get near two-thirds. Wow! And both main parties are more or less equally bad. And why would such ‘insiders’ do so well in winning pre-selections? Factions, dear boy, factions. Plus, a staffer who’s spent a half decade playing Uriah Heep to some MP will owe loyalty to that MP. Help the sycophant to get into parliament and you have the beginnings of a power base. Or perhaps you think I’m too cynical.

Or put the question differently.  How many Nigel Farages are produced by selecting former political staffers to be future MPs? None is the correct answer. Farage had for many years a successful career in investment banking. He wasn’t a lifelong political hack. He had goals he wanted to achieve that flowed from deep-seated beliefs and he cared more about them than about some position in cabinet, some nice posh office, some chauffeur- driven limo. I look at the current crop of Australian parliamentarians and, frankly, I mostly see what you’d expect to see from former political staffers – careerism, intrigue, a willingness to stab the current boss in the back because the ABC encourages it, a lack of core principles.

Take the Liberal party. If such a party’s MPs were really motivated by small government, competition-based, anti-centralist and pro-freedom principles would they have ploughed on with the money- wastingly stupid NBN? Or idiotic, not fit-for-purpose, très cher French subs? Or energy policies that have taken this country from having the democratic world’s cheapest electricity when I arrived here in 2005 to its most expensive today, 15 years later (a feat accomplished solely by political fiat)? Or cravenly caved in on s.18C and free speech? The list goes on.

The point is that in politics there is more to success than just getting re-elected. There is a view of what is worth accomplishing. All sorts of Anglosphere PMs and politicians won innumerable re-elections, accomplished next to nothing, and are long forgotten. Today’s Liberal party (at the state level even more than federally) look to me to be desperately in need of a Nigel or two.

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