Considering he is the leader of a party which defines Britishness, in part, as “courtesy/politness/manners”, the recent outburst of UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament was extraordinary.
Little of interest usually happens in the European Parliament but Farage’s remarks were widely reported. Addressing the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, Farage said “I don’t want to be rude, but you know, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk”. Farage wasn’t finished. “The question that I want to ask”, he continued, “and that we are all going to ask is: who are you? I had never heard of you; nobody in Europe had ever heard of you. I would like to ask you, Mr President: who voted for you? And what mechanism – I know democracy is not popular with you lot – what mechanism do the peoples of Europe have to remove you? Is this European democracy? Sir, you have no legitimacy in this job at all, and I can say with confidence that I can speak on behalf of the majority of the British people in saying: we do not know you, we do not want you, and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better.” He rounded off by branding Belgium, where van Rompuy comes from, “pretty much a non-country”.
There were calls for Farage’s suspension as an MEP, some even branded him “racist”. But there was actually more truth than racism in Farage’s remarks.
Janet Street Porter branded Farage a “racist” on Question Time the following day for his “non country” remark. As usual, she was talking rubbish. How, after all, is it possible to be racist against a group of people, like the Belgians, who arent a race? Besides, Farage’s description has some truth in it. Belgium is a shotgun marriage of other peoples convenience of French speaking Walloons in the south and Dutch speaking Flemish in the north, welded together by the European powers in the 1830’s so that ports like Antwerp and the lower Rhine wouldnt fall into French hands. The two groups have so little in common that in 2007 Belgium had no government for over six months as the two communities couldn’t find enough to agree on.
Farage’s attack on van Rompuy’s non existent democratic mandate is also justified. We are Europeans. We now have a President. Not one of us voted for him. We cant get rid of him.
Farage had a strong case on the non democratic lash up that was van Rompuy’s appointment but he spoiled it with his silly remarks about wet rags and bank clerks. The rest was undoubtedly pretty strong stuff but, as Barry Goldwater famously said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.
(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 11, 15/03/10)