For all he is painted by the mainstream media, Nigel Farage is an amiable cove, never happier than when gulping down a pint of ale or huddling with the social lepers at the pub door for a group smoke.
Most politicians suffer an attack of the vapours when dragged into a bar in the presence of snappers and cameras and invited to order a drink. At this point they dimly remember the focus group findings that associate various drinks with variously unflattering images. Gin and tonic (a toff), whisky (a drunk), glass of Chablis (a young, precious metropolitan toff), glass of claret (a serious drunk), fizzy mineral water (a drip), a Coke (boring). About the only safe option is a pint of bitter (not lager – that’s for hooligans and football supporters). But some people don’t look comfortable with a pint, especially if they would never normally touch the stuff.
Not Nige. He might make a lousy PM but he sure knows his way around a pub and its bar tariff. For all the photos of him with foaming pints of beer, he is actually more of a red wine man (a serious drink and one with alleged health benefits). But then every politician is allowed the occasional minor deceit. And there is no doubt that the Ukip leader is a genuine fan of Rothman’s cigarettes, never to be taken lightly.
All this came into focus today after we were reminded that Nigel’s memories of Scotland are rather mixed. The last time he ventured onto this foreign soil, he was set upon by those cultured souls who worship the SNP. They would have torn him limb from limb had he not been rescued by the Edinburgh police, men with a fine sense of humour since for his own protection, they locked him in a pub. Farage was to emerge some hours later, not noticeably the worse for wear. But then if you are an experienced pub goer (unlike the amateurs who clog up bars at Christmas time) you can usually survive a few hours of light drinking unscathed.
Yesterday, Farage visited the Ukip target seat of Hartlepool, one of those northern English towns that the Labour party has long taken for granted and which the modern world has chosen to bypass. It is a North East version of Clacton, only even more representative of the land that time forgot. Hilariously, it was once represented by the ultimate metro-toff Peter Mandelson, who famously confused its trademark mushy peas with guacamole. Even more hilariously, the inhabitants remain devout Eurosceptics, whose forebears during the Napoleonic Wars hanged a shipwrecked monkey in uniform because they believed he was a French spy.
The Ukip leader was on safe ground, so much so that he chose this bastion of old England to launch a ferocious attack on the Scots Nats, drawing on his Edinburgh experience to accuse them being “openly racist” and vehemently anti-English.
It was a neat bit of table-turning. Just about everyone plays the victim card these days so why shouldn’t Farage? And there is method in his madness. Hartlepool is a Ukip target because of the rotten complacency of the local Labour hierarchy, who treat the place like a medieval fiefdom. It is also the kind of place where a disenfranchised and disregarded white working class is coming over to the patriotic St George’s flag waving Ukip in droves. Where better to remind the locals that if they stick with their tribal pattern of voting Labour, they will find themselves metaphorically flying the flag of St Andrew?
Urban liberals are denouncing the vote-Labour-get-SNP-rule message for stirring up divisive nationalism. They will be doubly dismissive of Farage playing the PC card and repositioning himself as a voice of moderation.
But heck, there is an election under way. A good guess is that although Ukip will not win many seats, they will pile up mountains of ex-Labour votes in the north.