Farage is more English nationalist than patriot

Farage is more English nationalist than patriot
Farage is more English nationalist than patriot

To British eyes, it may seem strange that President Emmanuel Macron of France has responded to his trouncing in the European elections by calling a snap parliamentary election just before the Paris Olympic Games in July. He did not have to do this. Why not lie low and wait for better days?

But this is to misunderstand not only M Macron’s impulsive, high-handed character, but also what he sees as his country’s crisis. His main opponents, the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen, won twice as many votes as his own party in the Euro elections.

The president is now challenging his electorate, saying, in effect: “All right. Do you mean what you say? Let’s find out.” If the RN wins the elections just announced, Jordan Bardella – Mme Le Pen’s proxy as party leader – would become prime minister, with Macron still president.

M Macron’s gamble is that voters won’t really want this or, if they do, that the RN’s time in office will discredit Mme Le Pen as a presidential candidate before his presidency ends in 2027.

The issue is visceral in France because allegiances still go back to the Second World War. De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic – the current constitution – was constructed to make it extremely hard for any party linked to Vichy’s collaboration with the Nazi occupation to rise to the highest office. So far, the two-round system of presidential voting has achieved this.

Although Mme Le Pen has moved her party a long way from the racist, pro-Vichy extremism of her father’s time as leader, the French know its genealogy. Opponents of Le Pen see the current struggle as one between European civilisation and barbarism. They are confirmed in their view by her party’s links, some of them corrupt and concealed, with Vladimir Putin and his regime. France’s elite civil servants are in a tizzy about M Macron’s decision for a sudden election because, if RN wins, they might not be able to stomach being collaborators in a Le Pen regime and would be out of their jobs.

To lesser or greater degrees, comparable questions of underlying allegiance arise across most of the European Continent. In Spain, with Franco’s legacy, in Germany with Hitler’s, in Italy with Mussolini’s, old passions stir. The current revolts against those in power are for the most part richly deserved because rulers have increasingly mistreated and ignored their peoples, but darker forces, such as long-subdued ethnic rivalries, are now in play.

Large sections of the European Right – though not, to her credit, Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister of Italy – make friendly noises towards Putin and oppose helping Ukraine.

Many in Britain, watching all this from afar, may feel pleased that issues such as immigration and net zero, so long suppressed by the rulers, are now coming to the fore. It is, indeed, high time to confront such things. But we should also be aware that divisions much deeper than those in our politics are involved.

So one should not rush into a reframing of British conservatism of the kind which Nigel Farage is trying to bring about. I fear Mr Farage does not understand the difference between nationalism – so often a divisive and negative phenomenon – and patriotism, which is usually a positive one.

Part of the historic skill of British conservatism has been to cherish the differing but interweaved threads in the national tapestry rather than pulling them apart. Hence its support for the Union.

Mr Farage, on other hand, is more of an English nationalist than a patriotic Brit. In consequence, he raises no objections to a united Ireland and has expressed some sympathy with the Sinn Fein president, Mary Lou McDonald. He says he understands the “emotions behind” Scottish nationalism. He is always inclined to make apologies for Putin, whom he once described as the politician he most admired. He has a bit of a yen for the continental nationalist politics of the sort described above. If I had to find a single word for his politics, I would say they are a bit unBritish.

Skillful ignorance

After the daring and successful raid in which Israeli special forces rescued four hostages from Gaza on Saturday, BBC television news interviewed ex-Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, formerly of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Dozens of civilians had been killed in the ensuing battle. The BBC reporter wanted to know why the Israelis could not have issued “a warning to those civilians to get out in time”. With saintly patience, Col Conricus calmly pointed out that if such a warning had been issued, Hamas would immediately have killed all the hostages in question.

Three questions arise from this exchange. One is: “Why does the BBC not inquire into the reasons that Hamas keeps hostages in civilian areas?”

The second is: “At least three of the hostages were held by civilians (a former Al Jazeera journalist and his family members). What is the extent of Gaza civilian cooperation with Hamas murder and hostage-taking?”

The last is: “One understands, though deeply deplores, that the BBC has committed itself to extreme bias in its coverage of Israel/Gaza, but does that mean that it has to employ imbeciles?” I fear the answer is “Yes.”

Thin as a post

In this newspaper yesterday, James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, attacked Sir Keir Starmer for claiming to be tough on crime while actually being soft on it. Sir Keir was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, he said. Surely Mr Cleverly meant the exact opposite. Perhaps Mr Cleverly is too busy to work out what he means, but I feel someone must protest at the mangled metaphors that lie untended on the streets during this campaign.