Poor Nigel. Old Leatherface Farage hasn’t been having the best of times recently. It now seems a near certainty that he’ll be facing an interrogation session or two courtesy of the NCA, owing to his significant association with poor man’s rich man Arron Banks and his ever spinning web of obfuscation. There’s also been whispers that the FBI are still sniffing around after the repugnant scent of this especially odious person of interest too. These are merely whispers of course, but it doesn’t look like Farage’s trousers are going to be a tint other than an ominous shade of brown for a while yet.
Not to worry though, at least he’s still on television – gurning away with all the innate charm of a long since discarded slab of ham that’s been rotting away in a septic tank for nigh on 20 years. The venue this time was Channel Four with their recently aired ‘The Big Brexit Debate’.
Nigel’s favourite topic, right? You’d have thought this a wonderful opportunity for Mr Farage to engage with the electorate and proselytise about the “proper” Brexit he claims they voted for.
Alas, it didn’t go quite to plan.
The premise of the show was fairly simple. Channel Four, in conjunction with polling company Survation, had carried out the largest independent survey on all matters Brexit in a bid to get some indication as to what the country currently thinks. Over 20,000 people from across all constituencies took part, so we’re talking pretty big numbers in terms of polling with all the relevant details being found here.
So what actually happened? What exactly was it that tripped the switch in Nigel’s brain, transforming him from your run of the mill, sleazy propagandist to a babbling loon who gave the impression of being only a few breakdowns away from Alex Jones?
This result naturally sent Farage into a full scale meltdown, offering up the frankly bizarre insistence that all this proved in his mind was that Leave would win a hypothetical people’s vote by a bigger margin than previously, before rounding off the night with a typically paranoid tirade bemoaning the studio being full of Remainers. An unhinged conspiracy which drew surprisingly loud cheers from Leave voters in the audience to say that they weren’t there.
To be fair to poor Nigel, his narrative had taken a bit of a pounding all night. Not only did the public seem rather more keen on free movement than his utterances over the decades might suggest (though as panellist Sir John Curtice pointed out, the semantics of the question often sway the answer), he also suffered the indignity of being a far less favourable option than his omnifoe Theresa May when it came to who’d get the best Brexit deal.
Though it has to be said, nobody else really fared much better. Even Corbyn.
As fun as it is to laugh at Nigel for being a hapless tit who’s as representative of the British people as Prince Charles is of the working class, it wasn’t all joy for those cheering on Remain. Most strikingly, only 48% of 18-24 year old respondents signalled their intent to definitely vote in a potential future vote – not shifting one iota from the actual turnout of young people in 2016.
This left the otherwise composed Caroline Lucas somewhat dumbfounded, while giving those banking on the notion of a Brexit induced political awakening amongst the nation’s whippersnappers significant pause for thought. Perhaps a repeat of the harsh lesson struck on the morning following the referendum – there’s a myriad of differing perspectives outside the confines of your echo chamber from which nothing can be safely assumed.
This brings us onto undoubtedly the most striking moment of the night, courtesy of one Barry Gardiner.
Craftily planted alongside Tory Justice Secretary David Gauke, most of his evening predictably descended into a policy based dick measuring contest; the eternal rivals squabbling for what seemed like a century over which of their deeply flawed Brexit manifestos best respected 2016’s result.
However an evening spent picking apart the endless minutiae attached to the hopelessly nebulous ‘will of the people’ concept came to an abrupt whistle stop when the answer to the big question finally came, leaving poor Mr Gardiner looking as though host Krishnan Guru-Murthy had revealed himself to be a medium with Barry having been dead the entire time.
Gardiner’s potential moral quandary aside, the big question which still lingers is what does it all mean? And where does it leave the potential for a people’s vote?
Firstly, as satisfying as the outcome may have been for treasonous Remainer types such as myself, to use this as conclusive proof of a shift in the zeitgeist would be foolish on two counts. Not only does a gratuitous sense of self righteousness ultimately serve nobody, it would simply give rise to the same naive complacency which likely cost Remain dear last time out. Furthermore, it’s just a poll. As large as the sample size was and irrespective of how meticulous Survation were in their methodology, it ultimately can only serve as cautious insight as to what the prevailing mood actually is. Favourable towards Remain perhaps, but it’s still just a tiny glimpse into what might be out there.
As for the supposed necessity of a people’s vote, one of the best arguments for this arguably came by way of inadvertent implication – and it was all thanks to Harriet Ellis.
More commonly known as “the girl who rolled her eyes as Farage was talking”.
She was assumed by many to simply be a Remain voter, understandably frustrated at yet more witless bloviations from Nigel Farage. But no, she actually voted for Brexit – and it’s her reasons for doing so which struck me the most.
Rather than adopting the assumed pro-Brexit stance of being against immigration, she’s actually in favour of it; viewing Brexit as a way of ensuring that immigrants across the globe get a fair chance to settle in Britain without priority being given to EU nationals.
An atypical stance indeed, but it’s this diversity of opinion which ought to define what a people’s vote should really be about. While many supporters of the idea are unsurprisingly weary Remainers who see it as a chance to right a wrong, it’d be to their great folly if they were to hold that up as the overriding motivation.
Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit. The public voted Leave for plethora of reasons, each specifically devised from their own individual convictions. Sweeping generalisations may be of benefit to simplicity but they stifle debate to the point where nuance becomes lost beneath the broad strokes of lazy categorisation.
I’m sure many Remainers will be heartened by the show’s outcome, but it’d be all to easy to miss the subtext beneath the surface. People by their very nature have a wide variety of opinions on this subject – and it’d be a betrayal of the very democracy Brexit was supposed to stand for to not ask each and every one of them what they think.Follow @grahamlithgow