Nigel's coat. Photo: Carl Court
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Decoding Nigel's coat – what the Ukip leader's clothing tells us

From Del Boy to poor Michael Foot's donkey jacket, outerwear can tell you a lot about a man.

There is something strangely baffling about Nigel Farage, despite his presentation of himself as a straightforward man of the people, which is perhaps most evident in the peculiar matter of his coat. Velvet-collared, knee-length, tan-coloured, it is a variation of a Crombie or “covert” coat, originally designed for equestrian purposes. By the late 19th century, it was as likely to be sported by a gentleman out and about in London as on the hunting field, hence the Victorian illustrations of the pugilistic Marquess of Queensberry punching his son on a city street while wearing a covert coat.

Queensberry’s unfortunate son was, of course, Lord Alfred Douglas, the friend and lover of Oscar Wilde; and both father and son contributed to Wilde’s downfall. Now, you might feel that a homosexual scandal dating back to 1895 has little to do with the sartorial choices of the Ukip leader but in the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

I have no idea whether Farage is a fan of Oscar Wilde, but he has certainly shown himself willing to pass judgement on another man’s dress sense. In 2010 he stood up in the European Parliament and told Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, that he had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”. At the time of this attack, the Ukip leader was wearing an unremarkable grey suit that looked almost identical to that of the man he was condemning; since then, however, Farage has chosen to campaign in rather more striking outfits.

Yet if we are to follow suit and judge by appearances, the message of his coat is no less mysterious. For if at first the covert coat was a signifier of the upper-class elite, it was subsequently adopted by the landed gentry and the racing fraternity, then became part of a Sixties skinhead uniform, and thereafter took on even more raffish connotations. Hence its appearances in Eighties television series such as Minder, where George Cole wore a covert coat to play the roguish Arthur Daley, as did David Jason as Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.

Thus Farage’s coat is suggestive of a number of different meanings, from gentlemanly sporting pursuits to working-class aggression. And though it seems unlikely that it is the cut of this coat that has attracted Richard Desmond to Farage, the owner of the Express Newspapers group did say on 16 April that he was donating £1m to Ukip because he was “fed up with the floppy-haired Eton club”.

As it happens, the belligerent Marquess of Queensberry was also suspicious of Eton; indeed, when his wife put down their son’s name for the school, Queensberry was horrified, saying that he didn’t want the boy to be turned into a “Belgravian loafer”. Instead, Douglas was educated at Winchester and Oxford, where he became a floppy-haired poet. Worse still, at least in his father’s eyes, was his relationship with Wilde, whom Queensberry later accused, in a misspelled note, as “posing as a Somdomite”.

These threads of history may be entirely irrelevant to the present election campaign and yet they remain intriguing. Desmond made his fortune through a publishing empire that included pornographic magazines (and a gay monthly title, Attitude, that would have inflamed Queensberry). He himself was educated at Christ’s College, Finchley (until he left at 14); yet his dislike of floppy-haired Etonians was not sufficient to stop him having dinner with David Cameron at Chequers in 2011. Nor has Farage’s private education at Dulwich College prevented Desmond’s support for Ukip. “It’s a party for good, ordinary British people,” he declared in a statement in the Express. “It is not run by elitists.” The accompanying photograph showed Desmond together with Farage as the newspaper proprietor handed over his donation; each man was wearing a pinstriped suit and a grin.

As for the covert coat: well, it’s still out and about at the head of what the Express calls “Mr Farage’s People’s Army”. Oddly, all of this reminds me of a leader’s coat from long ago: Michael Foot’s so-called “donkey jacket”, a short, dark green coat that he wore to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 1981. His enemies said it was a disgrace that the leader of the opposition should look like “a navvy”; in fact, Foot’s wife had bought the coat from Harrods at considerable expense and it was admired by the Queen Mother, who said it was “a smart, sensible coat for a day like this”.

“I never dreamt this was going to cause such trouble,” said Foot in later years, reflecting on his coat and the “wounding caricatures” that followed. Could it be that history will see Foot as a gentlemanly character, dressed in seemly attire, unlike some of the spivs and turncoats now seeking influence and power?

Justine Picardie is the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar

This article first appeared in the 24 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, What does England want?

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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