Ukip are doing well at the moment, and this isn’t simply to do with the fact that Nigel Farage apparently has some sort of contract with the BBC, or because all those hicks in the provinces are secret racists. No, obviously it’s because, economic crisis aside (though it has itself been caused and exacerbated, I think, by the phenomenon I’m about to identify), every single mainstream politician in this country – with the clear exception of Boris Johnson – exhibits a particular sort of stupidity, and this leaves Farage (and Johnson) open to win votes with their much more compelling brand of assertive stupidity.
It is obvious, just to see a politician on the news, that this is a person with alarmingly withered intellectual faculties. I think that we can characterise the stupidity of the politician as one characterised by a sort of lack of receptivity. What I mean by this is, the politician is someone who parrots the same lines, who performs the same sort of stereotyped behaviour again and again, with only minimal heed for the situation (and even then, only reacting along the lines of, a different set of rules for something that counts as a different situation; one way to respond after a terrorist attack, one after a well-loved celebrity dies, etc.). One could not have a conversation with a politician: despite the seriousness of any given situation, they are trapped in the same interminable game with themselves, and indeed it is the lack of friction between this game and the rest of the world that is the source of their stupidity.
The ‘stupid politician’ is perhaps best symbolised by Ed Miliband’s “these strikes are wrong” nodding-dog act. This is something that happened because of how Miliband was placed in a game, that he (as a politician) is playing with the media. The problem is that this game has become total. It is the only world these people know: even before they ‘went into politics’ they will all have grown up as ‘politics junkies’, reading all the papers in the interminably precise and utterly uninsightful way that only such people can. As Wittgenstein remarks in his considerations on following a rule, “a picture held us captive,” and there is no better metaphor, I think, for how the nodding-dog politician looks: held transfixed by a mysterious set of complex rules that only they (and people like them) can see, and that has nothing at all to do with the world that they are supposed to be running. They don’t realise, at any point, that they themselves, at least in part, make these rules, and there need be nothing enchanted about them: the relationship of the politician to ‘politics’ as such is that of the savage to the nature in which they live.
Farage, of course, is also an idiot. I would never want to deny that. But he is an idiot by virtue not of how he behaves, but what he thinks. He behaves, in fact, like an intelligent person I think would, or should: he is assertive, he takes an authoritative stance for himself on the world and he is able to persuade others to adopt that stance too. It’s just that his opinions happen to the opinions of a basically pretty stupid person. Of course, that probably helps when you’re wanting to attract votes from English people…
But in a way Farage is, I think, to be emulated. The mainstream politician cannot take an authoritative stance for themselves on the world because there is no space for this in the game that they are playing: with the game become total, and every individual subsumed under it, the world never gets a look-in. An engagement with the real world, an authoritative stance taken on something that is actually happening, could only look to the mainstream politician (and to the press) like a dangerous mis-step. There is effectively no way that a mainstream politician can exercise freedom of thought and, like a battery hen whose muscles atrophy because they cannot exercise freedom of movement (even if it is just to cluck and peck around), the brain of the politician becomes similarly withered. If life is to be breathed back into politics in this country, then more mainstream politicians must at least dare to be free-range idiots, like Farage. And this is, of course, what Boris Johnson has got right.
But moreover I think that Farage is actually less dangerous than these stupid mainstream politicians because although louder, he is at least someone you could, if you wanted to (oh to be cornered in a pub by Nigel Farage!) have a conversation with. That is: the views of Ukip are ones that are represented as exactly that, views rather than moves in a game, and so it is possible to get a critical purchase on them. Of course the ideal would be assertive intelligence, but we can’t have everything: because stupidity in part is about being unreceptive, the assertive brand of stupidity is I think dialectically preferable.