ANigel Farage resignation is for Christmas, but not for life. Even before the Ukip leader finished the event announcing he was stepping down, Nigel was already softening his stance so much it feels more prudent to cast this as a sabbatical. Think of it as Glenn Close going under the bathwater in Fatal Attraction. You know she’s going to rear back up soon enough. Or, as Nigel put it about the possibility of returning as party leader in time for the 2020 general election: “Let’s see. Let’s see where we are in two and a half years’ time.”
Farage has, of course, resigned twice before. Outside the room in the evangelical centre where he made the resignation-effect speech, there was a huge wall inscription reading: “THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME”. What about Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP? “Get down to the bookies if you want,” sniffed Farage, “but I wouldn’t put too much money on it if I were you.” Informed that Carswell had tweeted a smiling emoji shortly after news of his standing down, Nigel replied: “I’m pleased that he’s smiling, because that’s not something I’ve seen very often.”
There were the usual ironicidal moments. Of Britain’s lack of qualified trade negotiators to handle Brexit, Nigel observed: “I’m told we haven’t got the skills. So let’s headhunt them. Let’s get them from Singapore, from Asia …” How aboutEurope? They’ve got plenty there.
In his Telegraph column today, Boris Johnson declared that David Cameron needs a plan to stop this political Diana moment. That’s a bit like the drunk chauffeur and 15 French paparazzi demanding to know why the Queen is still at Balmoral. But Farage has got a plan, he wanted us to know, which amounts to: let’s get the hell on with it. Though he was needily coy as to a potential role for himself in the political negotiations. “We need a team of negotiators that includes figures from across the political spectrum,” he kept stressing, “which reflects where that Brexit vote came from.” Which was, in case you missed it, from “the Ukip people’s army”, and “Ukip’s messages”.
It is fair to say Nigel remains unaware of the difference in calibre between himself and a figure such as Theresa May (whatever your views on her). You sense he will be condemned to wonder furiously why the call to the top table doesn’t come, much as Liz Hurley may enquire furiously of her agent why she has been overlooked again for a role in favour of Meryl Streep.
Keen to get a clearer sense of the Farage diplomacy doctrine, I asked him: does he think the tone he took in the European parliament last week was a good negotiating tactic that will help the UK to get the best deal out of Europe? After all, for an MEP who must have spent a lot of time near airport bookshops over the past two decades, Nigel seems mystified by the tenets of even basic business manuals. Unless I missed the bit in Sun Tzu that explains that all battles are won by mugging off your opponents before you start.
Explaining the “context” of his artless and embarrassing rudeness, Nigel claimed that the session had been “the worst event ever in the history of the European project”. It was only right, he went on, “that they got just a tiny little piece of my mind”. That is certainly all he would have to spare. His failure to understand how avenues are being opened up for any future deal appears total. Any manoeuvrability is deemed “backsliding”. “If we start to concede in these negotiations now,” he explained, “we will get a rotten deal. We’ve got the trump cards.” Certainly the Trump cards. Perhaps he could use his new free time to penNigel Farage’s Art of the Deal.
Either way, according to Nigel, we are now going to see “the real me”, now he is no longer constrained by … by what? Decorum? Ukip’s famously rigorous party discipline? EU-based race discrimination legislation? It was rather unclear. Of all the Farage disguises, incidentally, Daffy Nigel is the least convincing. Was he going to get a seat in the Lords? “Oh gosh, I shouldn’t have thought so for a moment.” The main thing about his victory, he reminded listeners for the 2,345th time, was that “we were against the entire UK establishment”. Spoken like a man who had literally spent yesterday at a garden party at the home of newspaper proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, sitting opposite Liam Fox and Rupert Murdoch.
Considering how frequently he warned people to “watch this space” if Ukip doesn’t get the deal it wants out of Brexit, you should probably treat reports of Mr Farage’s departure as somewhat exaggerated. For my tastes, the entire event recalled the moment in the Day Today soap opera set in a bureau de change, when the Steve Coogan boss declares dramatically: “I never thought I’d say this, but pull down the blinds. I’M CLOSING THE BUREAU … for an hour.”