A long-established favourite among wildlife TV devotees is the meerkat, those furry, bright-eyed, sociable dwellers in the African deserts using sentries standing straight up on their hind legs to spot approaching predators and ushering the others away into the safety of their burrows. Little wonder that they provoked such raptures. And then some whiz kid in an advertising agency woke up to the fact that ‘meerkat’ sounded very much like “market”. And from that swung out a campaign on TV, the internet and wherever, about a company which, for a fee, will inform us about the comparable costs of insuring cars or homes or of credit cards and loans... The slogan for all this was ‘Compare The Meerkat.’ Among the inducements to use this service there was the chance to be rewarded with a cuddly meerkat to take to bed. Or to buy a meerkat diary or calendar. Or a coffee mug. It threatened to be overwhelming.
Perhaps it was as a spin-off to this that the Minimalist web-site posted some photographs of meerkats alongside others of Nigel Farage, a founder and current leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). There are in fact some striking facial similarities between the two - which in some quarters may have been regarded as appropriate because political leader Farage pulls the same tricks as any insurance sales person, suggesting that the customers pay – but in this case with their votes – for some promised benefits of security and progress. ‘Well you're in luck, you're in exactly the right place! ... We always put our customers first!’ bellows Compare The Market while UKIP assures us that we can safely vote for them because they believe ‘...in every area of policy, in listening to the people and giving them more control over the services they receive’.
From what is known about Farage, it is unlikely that he took umbrage at being likened to the meerkat. His friend and associate, MEP Godfrey Bloom, says that his lifestyle is ‘...appalling, he'd be the first to admit it. He drinks too much red wine and he smokes too much.’ Which is very different from the way things were under his predecessor, Lord Pearson, who felt he had to resign because he was ‘...not much good at party politics’ or perhaps, as one rather more specific opinion of him had it, ‘a bumbling toff; wealthy, out of touch and eccentric.’ But Farage may prefer to be judged by results: UKIP has recently notched up some impressive electoral performances – notably when it came second in the by-election in Rotherham last November – and he can claim to be one of the most easily recognised politicians in the country. In fact, a recent MSN poll named him as the top politician of 2012.
Since its inception UKIP has advanced on the electoral front, if only to occupy some of the ground left open by dissent within other parties and the anger of the LibDem membership at being in coalition with the Tories. Threatening by-election results left panic-stricken Tories asking whether their outlook might be more settled if they dumped Clegg and his LibDems in favour of unity with UKIP. Any such move might be hampered by Cameron's opinion in 2006 of UKIP as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists...’ although his flexibility in such matters can be judged by his welcoming the LibDems into government in 2010 in spite of his recent assessment of them as ‘a joke.’ Farage was first elected as an MEP – which was by no means consistent with his trumpeted hatred of Europe – in 1999, making his name for such contributions to their debates as his description of Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, as ‘...having the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’. He refused to withdraw or apologise and was penalised by the loss of ten days Members' allowance. He leads a group under the name of Europe of Freedom and Democracy, the principles of which enable it to accommodate a Mario Borghezio whose description of the re-election of Barack Obama was ‘Multiracial America has won, which I can't fucking stand’ and who, on a separate occasion, proclaimed ‘Vive les Blancs de l'Europe. And underlying these matters Farage is rated, in terms of his attendance, among the worst value for what he gives as an MEP.
He has kept up that style, regarded by his followers as challenging the more established and rigid political mannerisms. At the 2010 general election he was not impressed by the custom that the current Speaker of the House of Commons should not be opposed and stood for UKIP in Buckingham against John Bercow. On polling day, he unwittingly attracted further attention when he was a passenger in a private aircraft which nose-dived into the ground when the UKIP banner it was towing became entangled in its tailplane. Both Farage and the pilot were lucky to escape with their lives; Farage was seriously injured but shrugged off the pain as he hobbled about his business, seemingly unconcerned about what other disasters might be consequent on flying a banner-flaunting UKIP and his place in it. The pilot responded by threatening to kill Farage and the crash investigator. Eventually a sympathetic judge decided that he (the pilot, not Farage) was suffering from ‘a depressive disorder of moderate severity... clearly needed help’ and made him subject to a Community Order.
To any voters who can be said to be ‘depressive’ as a result of their betrayal by the political parties of capitalism, UKIP claims to be therapeutically energising, more hopeful, offering something unique. In fact, it can hardly be distinguished from the rest. Typically, its policies claim to deal with capitalist problems associated with wages, unemployment, crime, housing, the health service... It offers nothing to persuade anyone to make an exception and to go out and vote for another period of capitalism and its impotent leaders. There is, of course, one difference for UKIP, in the bizarrely damaging behaviour of its leader. To vote for it on that basis would be a symptom of clearly being in need of help.