Britain’s anti-immigration firebrand just had a truly disastrous interview. Will it change anything?


File: UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage (R) talks to the media as he sits outside the Volunteer Rifleman's Arms pub, as he visits Bath. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Nigel Farage, the leader of U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), an upstart right wing movement widely expected to triumph in upcoming European Parliament elections, likes to portray an image of as the politician who is finally talking sense. Willing to stand up to the out-of-touch elite in Westminster and the bean counters in Brussels, Farage – usually photographed holding a pint of ale and wearing a tweed jacket – is the true voice of the British masses.

Or so he sees it. Other people think differently. In one recent poll some 27 percent of people surveyed felt that UKIP, which takes a hard anti-immigration stance, was racist. Another 35 percent felt that while the party itself may not be racist, it "seem to attract some candidates or supporters with racist, extreme or odd views."

That's a tough perception to shake, especially when you have candidates who tell black British comedians to "go and live in a black country" and Farage, for all his good humor and bright trousers, has struggled to change the conversation.

Case in point, on Friday Farage appeared on London's LBC Radio to debate anchor James O'Brien. You can see video of the debate below, and even if you watch the interview without sound, note how Farage's face turns an ever darker shade of crimson as the interview progresses: Things did not go well.

The last section is especially heated. Around 15 minutes in, O'Brien presses Farage on why so many people think UKIP is racist. Farage, who has a German wife, is asked why he said he felt uncomfortable when people spoke foreign languages on the train, and is pressed on whether his wife speaks German on the train (the UKIP leader said his wife would not speak German on the train). Farage, struggling to defend his party, asks the rhetorical question "What is racism?" and argued that his immigration stance was based on ideas of both "quantity and quality." When asked why he might be okay with a group of German children next door to him and not a group of Romanian men, Farage snaps, "You know what the difference is."

Things get even worse when Farage is pressed on his expenses, and accused of performing a "reverse ferret" (a British political word similar to "flip flop") for going back on an announcement he would submit to a strict audit. At this point Farage's PR advisor Patrick O'Flynn was forced to step in to try to stop the questioning, which in turn only prompted greater criticism from O'Brien.

It's hard to view the interview as anything other than an disaster: Across the British press, the accepted term seems to be that it was a "car crash."

But can it actually derail UKIP? As my colleague Griff Witte noted in a recent profile of Farage, it is looking more and more likely that UKIP may best the two traditional parties in Britain, the Conservatives and Labour, in the upcoming E.U. elections. If it does so, it will be the first time in a century that a third party has come out on top in national elections, and it would be a very good sign for UKIP in next year's U.K. parliament elections.

Even accusations of racism don't seem to be able to dent that momentum. The very same poll that found 27 percent of people thought UKIP was racist, found they were most likely to win the most seats in the E.U. election. There's long been a huge amount of criticism of Farage from all corners of the British political spectrum: UKIP voters just don't seem to care.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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