Yesterday I sent this tweet, in dismay at hearing Nigel Farage’s voice, once again, on the radio – in this case BBC World at One.
I wondered afterwards if I’d been right. So I listened again, to see what it is about Farage I find so dangerous, and ask whether I was reasonable to suggest he shouldn’t have been on BBC World at One. The interview is here (begins at 20:16).
Farage’s interview was one of three which, combined, formed part of an extensive piece about the issue. Remember the context: a petrol bomb launched at an asylum seekers’ centre, and revelation of overcrowding and disease at Manston. A day where sensitivity was called for.
The first two interviews were with Daniel Sohege, of Stand For All, a specialist in international law with particular expertise in refugee and human rights policy; and Sir David Normington, a former Permanent Secretary to the Home Office.
Two people, then, who know what they’re talking about. Both thought that the main cause of the current crisis was the Home Office backlog in processing asylum applications.
Cue Farage, who we were told by Sarah Montague “was leader of UKIP and has long campaigned on immigration”. At which point two alarm bells ring. Isn’t this a piece about ASYLUM SEEKERS, not immigration as a whole? Isn’t it dangerous to conflate them?
And what, BBC World at One, is Farage’s expertise? Yes, he’s influential, in part because he keeps being given airtime. But what does he know about the asylum system any more than the rest of us? Spending time in the Channel filming small boats doesn’t make you an expert.
Still, he makes good radio, doesn’t he? The interview begins with a nice, open question. An invitation to a diatribe, if you like. “What do you think needs to happen now?”, Nigel is asked.
He’s not going to miss this opportunity to share baseless assertions. Never mind what the experts have just told us. The problem, he assures us, has nothing to do with Manston being over-crowded, or with hotel rooms.
The problem, he says, is the numbers. In particular because of the Albanians. They shouldn’t even be given a hearing – just put on the plane straight home.
(He’s sensitive to the previous day’s violent attack on asylum seekers, so he uses the word “flood” rather than “invasion”. Flood somehow seems so much more benign – a force of nature rather than an act of aggression. Good for Nigel. Grown-up politics).
What about the problem with the speed of processing, asks Montague? You know – the issue that the two experts we had on before you highlighted as the main cause? Nigel ignores the question and has another rant about Albanians. He gets away with it.
But there IS a modern slavery angle which may mean at least some of those Albanians are eligible, points out Montague. Nigel ignores this too, of course. He talks about those aggressive young Albanian men with their two-finger signals, a "known symbol" of Albanian criminals?
(Two sources who do know about this stuff tell me they think this is “bollocks”, by the way. Doesn’t that sign usually mean “victory”. Could it maybe, possibly, just signal happiness that they’ve made it here?)
Back to the interview. Farage is escalating. These young men with their two-finger signalling are a national security issue. That’s right. Who has time to worry about helping those in need when we have national security to worry about? Let’s tar everyone with the same brush.
Montague tries again. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, shouldn’t the Home Office be moving people on to other accommodation to alleviate the over-crowding at Manston?
But Farage is off the leash now. There’s no longer any point in asking questions. He has a speech to make. A hate speech. The hotels are full! These people might come into contact with the public! The whole system is at breaking point! Australia had the same issue but solved it!
Notice it’s no longer just about those nasty Albanians. It’s about all of them. And what would you do with the rest of them, asks Montague (another open question). Nigel takes the open goal again: NOBODY that comes in by this route should ever qualify for refugee status!
Before Montague can ask, Farage effuses about what a generous country we are. Afghanistan! Ukraine! Hong Kong! Hmm – all very different cases there, all of which beg more questions. But no matter. What about other countries?, asks Montague.
And finally the stage is set for Farage to rant without limitation about immigration, to deliberately subsume the question of how we respond to those in desperate need of our help into the quite different question of what the UK’s immigration needs are.
Look at all the visas we have granted! Look at how our population has risen! The roads are full! The primary schools are full! You can’t get a GP appointment! THIS HAS TO STOP!
That’s it. A radio feature about refugees, prompted by a violent attack on them and the revelation of disease and overcrowding with more than a suspicion that the Home Secretary has deliberately allowed it to happen, has become a platform for Farage to rant about immigration.
So you think it’s a mistake to relax the rules on immigration? asks Montague – another gentle ball for Nigel to knock effortlessly beyond the boundary. He does indeed think it’s a mistake.
A little jibe about “big business” and cheap labour; a plug for Brexit; a threat to the Government about the next election, just to ensure they stick to the path of righteous bigotry. And his work is done.
Farage has been allowed to turn a conversation about our asylum system and what is going wrong with it (a huge part of which is clearly government ineptitude) into a highly political rant about immigration levels, littered with unsubstantiated assertions.
The question of how we respond to those who need our help has not only been neglected, it’s been perverted – so that those people are seen as no more than just another bunch of illegal immigrants. The considered views of Sohege and Normington are drowned out by Farage's invective
And yes, BBC World at One, I’m sorry to say it, but you have enabled it.
So, was I right to send that tweet? It’s not a precise science. Farage is arguably the most influential politician of the last ten years. There IS clearly a problem with Albanian gangs. Failed asylum seekers (a minority of those who apply) SHOULD get sent home.
But it’s not censorship to decide not to interview Farage for a piece about refugees. And if you ARE going to interview him, you need to be prepared for all this tricks.
He uses all the tools of propaganda to spread his hate speech. He asserts without evidence. He deflects. He ignores questions he doesn’t like. He makes little speeches which have nothing to do with the question. He is dangerous.
If you’re not sure about the hate speech bit, here he is on Twitter later last night, talking about “invasions” and “globalists”.
So do I think Farage gets disproportionate airtime? Yes. Do I think interviewers give him too easy a ride? Yes. Do I think misinformation and poison spread from his mouth like seeds in a summer breeze? Yes.
Do I stand by my original tweet? Yes, emphatically yes.