Nigel Farage moves through Clacton like it’s his own strip club. A handshake here, an incline of the head there, and always, always, the shallow smile that belies the knowledge that the longer the losing game is allowed to run, the more he wins.
He and everybody else knows he is the biggest fish in the narrow Brexit ocean, and Clacton is his birthing ground, where the tides and the currents of bullshit will always return him, so that the lies may be renewed again.
There was a remarkable serenity to it all as he walked about the town, drumming up support for himself in the European elections which he absolutely definitely doesn’t want to be standing in, but has nevertheless founded his own new party just to do so.
He is the centre of his own tiny universe, hemmed in by a tight diamond of Brexit Party placard-waving activists with the kind of youthful exuberance that would make The Osmonds look like One Direction. And outside that moves another layer of microphone-pointing journalists, the whole procession moving up the street in almost total silence, 30, 40 journalists or more, desperate not to disturb the clean audio recording of whatever pleasantries he might exchange with passing fans.
And there are a lot of fans. One sight of the great albino whale shark and his racist remoras summons forth other racist cleaner fish, only not to remove any parasitic growths but pile more on.
One chap is thrilled to tell Mr Farage: “Britain’s over, manners are over. If I say I don’t like foreigners coming over here and taking all the jobs I’ll be arrested.” And yet, he did say it, recorded for all time by half of the world’s media outlets, and still no arrests took place.
He glides in to the butchers and glides out again. The same happens in the local greasy spoon. At one point, they move in seeming slow motion through the front door of a JD Wetherspoon and then directly out of the side door, never so much as breaking stride. One imagines this is what Benny Hill’s life must have been like before he had the genius idea of speeding it all up in post production and putting it over a novelty saxophone track.
Anyway, now that Brexit has been voted down by the Brexiteers for not being enough like the imaginary Brexit they made up, Nigel and co have some fresh people to blame. Shouting off the top of an open-topped bus in his aviator shades, looking never more like the opening scenes of a BBC Four documentary about some 1970s Guatemalan dictator that you’ve never head of, everything now was the fault of “The Remain parliament! The Remain parliament! The parliament that doesn’t represent the people.”
He’s right about that, of course. Parliament doesn’t represent Nigel Farage, because he’s stood for it seven times and lost every time. It has elected Sir Bill Cash, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Steve Baker and various others though, who if they had voted for Theresa May’s deal, Britain would be out of the European Union by now.
But because they didn’t, Nigel now gets to talk the language of betrayal. It’s like a cartel in its way, Brexit. You keep voting it down, I’ll keep campaigning for it, and we get to keep our grievances for life.
And it is why he must keep returning to Clacton, because it is nothing like Britain. It is the only place that has ever elected a Ukip MP at a general election, and it changed its mind about that two years later too.
This is the place he must come, to boom to an exclusively white and entirely elderly crowd that “We have been openly and wilfully betrayed!” Betrayed by the MPs the country actually voted for, not the guy standing up there, who has been rejected by the voters time and time and time again. Here he can say he has been betrayed by a deal he doesn’t like, even though it delivers on ending freedom of movement, and ending payments to the EU, which he and others quite rightly decided were the only two things people cared about, three years before he’d be back again, screaming about betrayal on their behalf. Betrayed by reality.
In the audience, old white men and women shoot the old white breeze. Even the midday sun is white, hovering like a communion wafer behind a thin white cloud. Talk to anyone for very long, and Brexit very soon becomes about the war, about D-Day, about better days when young men shot one another to pieces on foreign beaches. The past railing against the future.
“This is about our standing in the world, about whether people respect us,” Nigel growled at them, and down on the boardwalk, they all growled back, an entirely irony-free exchange.
It is fully sociopathic politics, this. Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of their mission to burn the country down. Nothing less than the full, placing-sanctions-on-yourself Brexit will be tolerated, and any grown-up that stands in the way must be torn apart. Full, national self-suicide is the only acceptable outcome.
“It is time to sweep the two main parties aside and replace them with better people,” he said. Which better people? Paul Nuttall? This, one has to remember, is a man who had to lead his last party six times, because everybody who ever replaced him had to resign within eight minutes, be it for lying about Hillsborough, running off with a glamour model or having an actual fist fight with a colleague in the European parliament.
And this, ultimately, is why Nigel Farage’s politics of grievance is so utterly futile. It is a mission to Clactonise the country, to make it economically backward but racially pure, and the country, ultimately, does not want to be Clactonised. It is why Brexiteers have conspired to secure a defeat from inside their own victory, because losing is all that Brexit can ever be.
No politician can make Nigel Farage’s septuagenarian army any younger. Time cannot be turned back. There can only be rage, rage against the dying of the white.