Until yesterday, Nigel Farage was enjoying a dream return to frontline politics. He has been widely praised for running a far smoother operation as leader of the newly formed Brexit Party than he did in charge of Ukip. (Incidentally, Ukip has since lurched to the far-Right and become a very nasty organisation.)
Enthusiastic crowds have flocked to his rallies up and down the country. Most significantly, Mr Farage has surged ahead in the polls.
One survey suggested that an astonishing 34 per cent of people plan to vote for the Brexit Party on May 23.
To cap it all, another opinion poll suggested if there was a General Election, the Brexit Party would get 49 MPs.
No wonder Mr Farage strolled into a BBC studio to be interviewed by Andrew Marr with the cocky air of a heavyweight boxer looking forward to a walkover. Fifteen minutes later, however, he left the ring battered and bruised.
Marr is not TV’s most feared political interviewer. But his polite and persistent questions rattled Mr Farage.
He tried bluster. He shook his head repeatedly. He rudely questioned Marr’s intelligence. At one point, it seemed he might tear off his microphone and storm out. Finally, he turned on Marr, saying: ‘This is ludicrous. This is absolutely ludicrous. I’ve never in my life seen a more ridiculous interview than this.’
Most admirably, despite the Brexit Party leader’s tetchiness, Marr stuck to his guns. Again and again, he asked if Mr Farage still believed in statements he’d made in the past about a range of issues.
These included whether the NHS should be replaced with an insurance-based system, if efforts to curb global warming were ‘the stupidest thing in human history’, if migrants suffering Aids should be treated on the NHS, about his ‘admiration’ of Vladimir Putin, if he wished to relax gun laws, whether he felt uncomfortable hearing foreign languages on the London Underground.
Also, his views on a second EU referendum, given that, in a TV interview last year, Mr Farage had said he was mentally prepared to face one.
Mr Farage insisted that the questions were not relevant on the grounds that the only issue that matters on May 23 centres on British democracy and the failure of politicians to implement Brexit. All Marr’s questions were more than reasonable. The fact is the Brexit Party has not produced a manifesto. In so far as it has policies, they are simply Mr Farage’s personal opinions.
And since the Brexit Party is fighting a national election, is ahead in the polls and is led by a man who previously headed a party that came first when the same elections were last held, in 2014, it’s part of the democratic process for Mr Farage to be grilled by the media on what his views are. Voters are entitled to know.
Mr Farage’s reaction betrayed the fact that he dislikes having his views challenged. That’s why the Brexit Party is run on autocratic lines. It has been deliberately constructed with no more than a dozen members, all of whom owe a personal loyalty to Mr Farage.
True, there are tens of thousands of ‘registered supporters’. But they don’t get a say in policy. Meanwhile, Mr Farage is secretive about his financial donors. Against this background, it was Andrew Marr’s job to try to get answers. In turn, Mr Farage knew that viewers deserved straight answers. Instead, Marr exposed his thin skin and bar-room irascibility which the public hasn’t seen before.
As a result, what we witnessed yesterday was an epic piece of TV-political theatre. Like Donald Trump, Mr Farage attempted to deflect legitimate questions by blustering about supposed media bias – in this case targeting the BBC.
A BBC, incidentally, which carefully took the decision not to risk offending Brexit-supporting viewers – or breach broadcasting guidelines – and canned Have I Got News For You last Friday featuring Heidi Allen MP, of the anti-Brexit ChangeUK party.
Of course, Mr Farage’s supporters will believe that he was unfairly ambushed. But others will undoubtedly now think differently of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.