What is Nigel Farage up to? Why would a man of his age, pushing 60, put himself through the whole I’m Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! thing?
Having been in a near-fatal plane crash and a serious car accident, as well as a bout of cancer, the producers have scaled back the most physically demanding trials; and of course, there is no real jeopardy anyway on the show. So, the ordeal for him won’t be as gruelling as for his jungle companions, but still, you wonder – why? Why now?
He has, after all, been invited on almost every year and has always turned it down, but this time round he’s accepted the offer with alacrity.
Farage himself has given us some of the answer. He’s made no secret of the vast fee he’ll receive, £1.5m (about enough to qualify for a Coutts bank account). Much more revealingly than that, he has also conceded that he wants to raise his profile: “You know, the [Brexit] referendum was a long time ago, there are a lot of young people who don’t know who I am, don’t know what I stand for. This is my big chance to reach a really big audience of young people, which I think will be good for me and really good for GB News as well. That’s one reason I’m doing it.”
Indeed so, and that makes perfect sense. Despite his presence and a loyal following, the GB News’ demographic is tiny by popular broadcasting standards, and very similar to that of the Leave and Ukip voters he previously relied on to support him – older folk.
It also happens to be the profile of Tory voters and the party’s membership, though they tend to be wealthier. Farage wants to make an impact with the public again, both old and young, and – believe it or not – fears being forgotten now that the one thing he is known for, Brexit, is “done” (as far as most people are concerned) and irrelevant.
In the short run, I think he needs the geriatrics to take over the Tory party; in the longer term, he’ll need the kids (ie the under 50s) to take over the country.
I’m a Celeb – with its reverberations through celebrity culture and social media – will be very useful for Farage. Surely, it’s always been obvious that there is no limit to his vanity? So, it seems it’s all about him, and his barely camouflaged political ambitions.
Just as the Liberal Party was supplanted by Labour as the primary progressive force a century ago, so too will some new group on the right, with or without the Conservative name, emerge in the coming years.
And guess who may have his eye on leading that group? Farage. He’s not going to be doing that marooned on GB News, banging on about migrants and Meghan Markle. He needs a far bigger national platform, and this ridiculous ITV show is helping to rehabilitate him and project a more human, nicer image of Farage as a team player who can get along with people from all sorts of backgrounds. Allegations of xenophobia and racism will melt away in the humid balm of the Australian jungle. After that, he can think about what he’s going to do in the next election, and what kind of a role he’ll play.
In my view, it’s highly unlikely he’ll make another futile bid to be elected as an MP, but as “president” of Reform, he could be a prominent campaigner, urging disillusioned hard-right Tory voters to vote Reform to save the party they love.
How about this as a theory? At some point thereafter – it doesn’t need to be planned in precise detail at this stage, but certainly after the upcoming Labour landslide – the traumatised Tory party will be dazed, confused and looking for a messiah.
Then someone will convince them that the reason they got crushed was because they weren’t Conservative enough, they hadn’t “done Brexit properly” and they weren’t ruthless about the people in the small boats. That someone, of course, being Farage, or some sympathiser who gets to be Tory leader on the understanding that Farage and his gang will be exercising some considerable power in future.
As I say, none of this is as carefully mapped out and choreographed as an episode of I’m a Celeb, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it’s the trajectory the Tories will take.
After previous defeats they’ve lurched to the right, notably after 1966, 1974 and the Blair landslide of 1997, and with mixed results. Sometimes, it has to be said, putting a more radical right manifesto to the people after some years of Labour government can prompt a return to power. However, a Farage-led party would be far more extreme, indeed more terrifying, than anything presented to the voters in the past.
But that’s for another time, and another general election. By this time next year, Farage might be making new friends in a hot and dangerous new environment – the Tory jungle. There’s frightening for you.