All hail Nigel Farage, the most talented politician in the world
British politicians are great at resigning. It's what unites Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. Over the years, Britain's aristocratic honor-based etiquette, combined with parliamentary procedure, has given the world the best example of the single most important virtue in any government: accountability.
The most recent display of such accountability came after the Brexit vote, when Prime Minister David Cameron recognized the vote as the political slap in the face that it was and resigned, even though he was under no constitutional obligation to do so and probably could have still eked out at least a few more months of political life. On the flip side, the biggest scandal of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's life is that he has refused to resign despite losing a vote of no confidence. Indeed, his supporters point out he's under no legal obligation to step down, but he should do so as a matter of accountability. His refusal to budge has Britons reacting not just with outrage, but with uncomprehending indignation.
This brings us to Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and pro-Brexit campaigner. This week, Farage announced his resignation as the head of UKIP, having accomplished what he set out to do: Get the U.K. out of the European Union. It's a testament to how sore the Remain losers and their allies in the media are that they have chided him for doing the eminently sensible — and the eminently British — thing, which is to not overstay his welcome.
As Farage recedes into the background of British and European politics, I want to pay tribute to this talented man, who could be the most awesome man in British politics, and perhaps in politics anywhere. But don't take my word for it; judge Farage by his track record.
Farage, a former stock broker who started working straight out of high school, cofounded UKIP in the '90s with the lofty goal of getting a referendum on the U.K.'s membership of the European Union. Everyone thought this was a pipe dream, and perhaps with good reason: In the 1992 general election, the party got a grand total of 4,383 votes, for a 0.01 percent score. But my, how things have changed. In the 2014 European Parliament elections, UKIP got an astonishing 27.5 percent of the vote and came in first in the country.
Throughout UKIP's evolution, Nigel Farage has been the party's almost uninterrupted leader, and its public face. And most crucially, he forced Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on the EU, and won. He achieved what he set out to achieve. How many political leaders can say that? To take a few examples, Paul Ryan looks unlikely to pass his dream resizing of the American welfare state; Angela Merkel's dreams of building a federal open-borders Europe are diminishing. But Nigel Farage accomplished his life's goal.
It's the political upset of a generation, and he did more than anyone to make it happen. But beyond Brexit, Nigel Farage has completely reshaped British politics from their post-war order. With UKIP, he's managed to do what continental European populists are still trying to figure out: how to build a populist movement that's not toxic and draws from the working-class bases of both sides of the party divide. With Labour increasingly disconnected from its working-class base, UKIP, or something like it, looks increasingly likely to replace Labour as British politics' second party, as Labour replaced the Whigs after World War I.
Farage is also one of the most talented speech givers and debaters around. It's impossible not to listen to his infamous "damp rag" speech, or his post-Brexit speech in the European Parliament, without shiver and glee. During the campaign, his crucial TV performances struck the perfect notes of populist righteousness without crankishness. And apparently, he's pretty good sharing a pint at the pub, too. Those are the basic skills of the politician: the blocking and tackling, the basic technique. I use the analogy advisedly. In sports, you often get folks with great technique, and others with great strategic understanding. It's the ones who have both who become the hall-of-famers.
And, like him or hate him, Nigel Farage has definitely earned his spot in the hall of fame of politics.