Trump's Kindred Spirit, U.K.'s Nigel Farage, Will Be An Honored Guest Friday

Jan 19, 2017
Originally published on January 20, 2017 1:28 am

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Among the guests Donald Trump's inauguration tomorrow will be one of his kindred spirits, a fellow populist who railed against immigration and who helped drive an electoral upset that stunned the world. I'm talking about the British politician Nigel Farage, a major force behind Brexit.

Unlike Trump, Farage does not hold political office in his home country. And since the Brexit vote, he's been searching for a new role. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: After his victory in last June's referendum, Farage was his brash self. Here he is in Brussels sticking it to fellow members of the European Parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIGEL FARAGE: You know, when I came here 17 years ago and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me. Well, I have to say, you're not laughing now, are you?

LANGFITT: But Farage, a 52-year-old former commodities trader, is like the dog that finally caught a car. After achieving his ultimate goal, he faces the question. Now what? The answer so far...

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "PHONE FARAGE")

DONALD TRUMP: Mr. Nigel Farage...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FARAGE: Thank you, Donald. Welcome everybody to the first Nigel Farage show exclusively live here on LBC.

LANGFITT: In an interview with NPR, Farage said he wants to use this show which goes out on London's LBC radio to bring more people to his brand of populist politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FARAGE: It's a fantastic platform. But I get the chance at the end of the hour every night to give my thought for the day. And I think that I can use this opportunity. I can continue to help shift thinking on major issues in this country.

BRIAN KLASS: I think that Nigel Farage, like Donald Trump, really likes the spotlight.

LANGFITT: Brian Klass is a political scientist at the London School of Economics. He says talk radio may be the best way for Farage to stay relevant. Given that his politics are so polarizing, they've kept him from winning a seat in the U.K. Parliament.

KLASS: Nigel Farage is someone who hasn't built up a base much beyond the diehard Brexiteers.

LANGFITT: But Klass says they still add up to millions of fans who admire Farage's quick wit and silver tongue.

KLASS: And that's where the transition to the media empire could be very helpful because you don't need to win over the entire public to have a successful radio show, as we see in the United States with the sort of hard-right and hard-left media. You get a constituency; you get good ratings.

SOPHIE GASTON: This is where populists can be so powerful. They don't need to be in power. They don't need to be leading the government.

LANGFITT: Sophie Gaston works for Demos, an independent London think tank. She says even though Farage was not a member of parliament, he was able to use his rhetorical skills to shape the debate on Brexit like other populists in Europe playing to fears about immigration.

GASTON: They know how to identify simmering or nascent social tensions and seize upon them to drive cleavages in societies.

LANGFITT: Farage's 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FARAGE: I found they were exactly the same kind of people that have been voting for UKIP and voted actually for Brexit. 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.

LANGFITT: He says they saw a failing political system and demanded change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FARAGE: The time had come for somebody bold to stand up in public and say what they'd been saying in private for some years.

LANGFITT: An apt description of Farage himself. Farage says if Prime Minister Theresa May follows through on Brexit as she pledged to do in a speech this week, he says he'll eventually retire from the political battlefield. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEARLY ORATORIO SONG, "OCCLUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.