Nigel Farage has made one of his rare interventions in British politics. Last we heard from the member for – hang on, he never actually won a seat did he? Oh well, “member” still works – he was on a plane to the United States to witness the Republicans’ “red wave” crash over the midterms. Said wave turned out to be little more than a dribble. Farage blamed “massive early voting”, or to put it another way, voting.
Anyway, after a long, three-week exile in which, we are left to assume, he’s been thinking hard about how it was he got everything so wrong, he’s back. This time the thing that grabbed his attention was the latest tranche of census data, released on Tuesday 29 November.
We need not detain ourselves long with his claim in a video that “London, Manchester and Birmingham are now all minority white cities”, which has been widely fact-checked, and shown to be as factually accurate as a sentence beginning “Nigel Farage is an MP”. (Short version: he’s conflated “white British” with “white”. Only Birmingham is actually minority white, and even then it’s only because the city’s boundaries exclude most of its suburbs.) Nor do we need dwell on Farage’s concern that the country is now only 46 per cent Christian (which is as much about secularisation as immigration, and come on, he probably thought the parable of the Good Samaritan was a tragedy), or his motives for highlighting such stats in the first place (being a horrible reactionary; retweets).
Two things, though, are worthy of note. One is Farage’s claim in the same video that the Office for National Statistics has said that “in future they will not ask of the nationality or birthplace of those taking part in this census”. This, he said, was a “scandal”, which – considering that such statistics are useful to public authorities and social scientists alike – it probably would be, if it were true. But it isn’t. Whether Farage was being cynical or merely incompetent I leave up to you to judge.
The other is how all this was greeted among those in his corner of the nasty right. One commentator, who I’m not going to dignify by naming, tweeted, “we never voted for this. Quite the opposite in fact”. (Even leaving aside the fact that many things happen without anyone voting for them, such as our being exposed to godawful opinions like his, when exactly does he imagine a party won an election on a “white Britain” manifesto?) Another briefly added a picture of Enoch Powell to his Twitter profile, and published a blog with the title “Why Enoch was right”. (Quite apart from anything else, he demonstrably wasn’t: Britain’s shift towards multiculturalism has been overwhelmingly peaceful, rather than river of blood Powell predicted.)
Such views are self-evidently horrible. The reason I think they’re worth thinking about right now is that they’re also vaguely hysterical. These are not the words of rational if unpleasant commentators, attacking particular policies or politicians: they’re the frothy-mouthed rants of furious men, railing against change itself. They might as well be screaming at the weather. They’re not trying to win: they’re howling because they know they’ve lost.
Even in the Tory party’s ongoing “last days of Rome” phase, these people are comfortingly far from parliament (in large part the result, as I may have mentioned, of Farage being a complete loser). But there, too, you’ll find angry men shouting at the clouds. In the last few weeks full-blown panic has kicked in on the Tory benches at the anonymously-briefed suggestion that Britain might seek a closer relationship with the European Union. Several current and former ministers – Simon Clarke, Robert Jenrick, perhaps even some who have not been in charge of the odd sock drawing department currently going by the name of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities – have gone on the record to remind everyone that Brexit is “settled”.
But it isn’t. It can’t be. The polls have moved overwhelmingly against the project, and the only generation that still supports it is the over-65s. When Leavers claim the matter is settled, it’s not a statement of fact but one of those things you say in the hope of making it so, like “we’re still happy, aren’t we?” or “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about”.
For years, any and all opposition to the reactionary right was greeted with a single refrain: “You lost. Get over it.” It wasn’t enough just to win: they wanted to trample the losers into the dust, and for everyone to see them do so. Now, though, demographics suggest a declining market for Farage’s brand of reactionary right-wing politics. All the polling we have suggests that the wind has changed, the Tories are facing annihilation, and the wider right irrelevance. And they’ve just spent years trashing the very notion of loser’s consent. No wonder they’re all looking so scared.
[See also: The quiet revolution in black British identity]