Trump's Kindred Spirit, U.K.'s Nigel Farage, Will Be An Honored Guest Friday
Among the guests at Friday's inauguration will be one of Donald Trump's political kindred spirits, a fellow populist who railed against immigration and helped drive an electoral upset that stunned the world.
British politician Nigel Farage was a crucial force behind last June's Brexit referendum. Trump became so fond of him, the president-elect suggested the British government appoint Farage to be the U.K.'s ambassador to Washington — advice Prime Minister Theresa May ignored.
Unlike the president-elect, though, Farage doesn't hold political office in his home country. And since the Brexit win, he's been like a dog who has finally caught a car, facing the question: Now what?
The answer so far is The Nigel Farage Show on LBC talk radio in London, an hour-long, call-in program from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which Farage kicked off earlier this month.
Politicians doing talk radio is not as common in the U.K. as it is in the U.S. In an interview with NPR, Farage said he wants to use his show to press the British government to follow through on its pledge to make a clean break with the European Union, and to draw more people to his brand of politics.
"It's a fantastic platform," the 52-year-old former commodities trader said of LBC, which stands for "Leading Britain's Conversation." The national talk radio station reaches 1.8 million listeners per week over the air. "I get the chance at the end of the hour, every night, to give my thought for the day, and I think I can use this opportunity — I can continue to help shift thinking on major issues in this country."
Farage is a founder of the U.K. Independence Party, which pushed the U.K. to leave the EU. He also serves as a member of the European Parliament, an EU body he openly despises.
After his Brexit win, Farage was characteristically brash, gloating in a speech to his fellow European Parliament members: "When I came here 17 years ago and I said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain out of the EU, you all laughed," he said. "I have to say you're not laughing now, are you?"
Brian Klass, a political scientist at the London School of Economics, says Farage's politics are so polarizing they've prevented him from winning a seat in the U.K. parliament, despite many tries. Given the circumstances, talk radio is a good way for Farage to stay relevant.
"Nigel Farage is someone who hasn't built up a base much beyond the hard-core Brexiteers," said Klass, "and that's where the transition to the media empire could be very helpful."
Klass notes that Farage still has millions of fans who admire his quick wit and silver tongue. And, as with talk radio in the U.S., you don't need broad political appeal to succeed.
"You get a constituency," Klass said. "You get good ratings."
Sophie Gaston, who works at Demos, an independent London think tank, said even though Farage was not a member of the British Parliament, he was able to use his rhetorical skills to shape the Brexit debate. Like other populists in Europe – including Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front — he played on fears about immigration.
"This is where populists are so powerful — they don't need to be in power, they don't need to be leading the government," Gaston said. "They know how to identify simmering or nascent social tensions and seize upon them to drive cleavages in societies."
Farage says critics unfairly demonize him and the U.K. Independence Party, known as UKIP, which he used to lead. He says his UKIP supporters are just like the Trump fans he met when he campaigned with the president-elect last year in Mississippi.
"They were exactly the same kind of people that had been voting for UKIP and voted, actually, for Brexit," Farage said. "They generally had jobs, they very often had kids who were not doing as well at the age of 25, 30, as they'd been doing."
He says these voters saw a failing political system and wanted change.
"The time had come for somebody bold to stand up in public and say what they'd been saying in private for some years," said Farage. He was referring to Trump, but also providing an apt description of himself.
If Britain's May follows through on Brexit, as she pledged to do in a speech this week, Farage says he'll eventually retire from the political battlefield and devote himself full-time to providing commentary from the sidelines on radio.
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