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Jonathan Eyal
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

World

Revolutionary who could split the Conservatives

The Straits Times | Jonathan Eyal | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The fact that Mr Farage himself is married to an immigrant from Germany is, apparently, no contradiction: he recently argued that, while newcomers from western Europe may just be acceptable, those from the eastern part of the continent are not.

SINGAPORE - HE started public life as an ordinary member of the Conservatives, the party which has ruled Britain for 120 out of the last 200 years. But Mr Nigel Farage could go down in history as the man who broke the Conservatives' historic hold on power.

For the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the movement he established two decades ago, hit the Conservatives hard at last week's British local elections and is also expected to have done well at the European Parliament ballots, which concluded yesterday. Few politicians have risen from the outer fringes of British politics to national stardom so quickly.

Like many revolutionaries, there was nothing in Mr Farage's beginning to mark him out as exceptional. Born into a stockbroker's family who lived in the green-leafed commuter belt around the British capital, Mr Farage went to a good fee-paying school but then decided that making money by following in his father's profession was preferable to getting a university degree.

Yet his life turned out to be spectacularly different. As a young man, he survived a horrible car crash. Later on, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer but defied the gloomy prognosis. And last year he underwent a major spine surgery to deal with the aftermath of a plane crash that nearly killed him in 2010.

None of this has ever daunted the 50-year-old who established UKIP in 1993 with the avowed objective of "restoring British sovereignty" by getting his country out of the European Union. To start with, he looked no different from the armies of aspiring politicians trying to exploit Britain's strong anti-European sentiments.

But unlike other eurosceptics who advocate complicated constitutional solutions to Britain's EU membership, Mr Farage's message is blunt: "Out of this nightmare." Mr Farage understood that such slogans are his best protection: they allow him to ignore tricky debates on how much the British economy may suffer as a result of leaving Europe.

He has also shrewdly avoided another trap into which other anti-Europeans fell: racism. While his key argument for leaving the EU is that it would allow Britain to reimpose immigration controls, he justifies this in social rather than nationalistic terms. The people who have borne the brunt of immigration, he said on the hustings last week, "are not the rich who get cheaper nannies and chauffeurs, but the working people, the poor".

The fact that Mr Farage himself is married to an immigrant from Germany is, apparently, no contradiction: he recently argued that, while newcomers from western Europe may just be acceptable, those from the eastern part of the continent are not.

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