As Nigel Farage embarks on his second pint of bitter, I read him a paragraph from Hunter Thompson’s Rolling Stone obituary of Richard Nixon. “Some of my best friends,” Thompson wrote, “have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon. My son hates Nixon. I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together. Nixon laughed when I told him this. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I too am a family man, and we feel the same way about you.’”
This kind of collective detestation, I tell Farage, closely reflects the attitudes expressed by my friends when I mentioned I was coming to meet the United Kingdom Independence party (Ukip) leader.
If history suggests that the ability to inspire hatred can be a perverse indicator of greatness in a politician, then who knows what heights Nigel Farage might scale? How many of us could really be driven to fury by such figures as Ed Miliband, David Cameron, or poor bewildered Nick Clegg? These are men who, I suggest to Farage, might have collaborated to develop a homogenised image you could brand as SBW: Smart Boy Wanted.
“They are appalling people, truly appalling,” Farage says, of his fellow party leaders. “Every one of them is as dull as bloody ditchwater. These men are thoroughly hopeless.”
“By what definition?”
I am one of many to have satisfied that second requirement. We have adjourned to the Alexandra Hotel in Chatham, Kent, where Farage is unwinding after an afternoon of canvassing on behalf of the most recent defector from the Conservatives, Mark Reckless. According to a Survation poll published last Sunday, Reckless holds a nine point lead in this Rochester constituency.
The day didn’t begin quite so well. Ukip activists can be somewhat wary of journalists. When I first arrived I approached one group and asked where I might find Farage, at which point one or two gave me the kind of look you see on the faces of locals at the village inn in a Dracula film, when a foreigner calls in and asks for directions to the castle.
But the Ukip leader’s habitual ebullience appears to have been shifted into overdrive by the welcome he has received in the Medway towns. Walking at his side as he toured the streets, I’d expected him to be greeted, at least occasionally, with a salvo of abuse. Instead he was received – everywhere – with an enthusiasm verging on euphoria. Here in the pub, our conversation is interrupted every few minutes by admirers.
A name like Nigel Farage, were it to appear in a historical novel, might indicate a tendency to foppish indolence and swagger. But you don’t need to talk to the politician for long to realise that the perception of him as a clown is seriously mistaken. Historically, the popular press has focussed on his history of vehicular misfortune, both terrestrial (he was almost killed as a young man when he staggered in front of a car, while drunk in Orpington) and airborne: in May 2010, while attempting a “fly-past” in a light aircraft, his Ukip banner became entangled in the tail-fin. The plane fell to earth from 11 metres, breaking his sternum.
Nautical catastrophe has so far eluded him, but Farage is still only 50 and a keen sea angler.