One of Britain’s most charming characters is the East-End barrow-boy. After all, who doesn’t love Arthur Daley? A little dodgy maybe, but in the end, he’s all right. Who could possibly dislike Del Boy Trotter, that vulnerable rogue always on the look-out for the main chance and ever-willing to take a prat-fall for the laughs? What a fackin diamond was Del Boy.
The Brits love their villains.
They loved Ronnie Biggs even though he bashed a poor bloke’s head in with an iron bar.
They loved Reggie Kray and his brother Ronnie cos you see the Krays and the Richardsons was always ‘avin’ a bit of an argy-bargy, but still they was always ready to take their old Mum down the Frog and Nightgown on the Roman Road for a good old knees-up even after Jack the ‘At got what was coming to him.
Gawd don’t the Brits love their fackin villains? And don’t they love their fackin spivs? Who hasn’t been down Brick Lane on a Sunday morning as the Arthur Daleys and the Del Boy Trotters get rid of their goods?
I’m not just givin’ you one set of china.
I’m not just givin’ you a block of knives.
I’m not just throwin’ in this ‘ere portrait of the old Queen Mother.
I’m not gonna give ya a mop, an ‘oover and an engine for a modified Ford Capri.
For twenty nicker, you can ‘ave the deeds to Buckingham Palace! Come on then! Letsby Avenue!
Now, as it happens, Brick Lane is but a stone’s throw from another den of spivs: the City of London. A rather grandiose term, I always thought for a place teeming with crooks and chancers. Did I mention that I once worked there in an august financial institution? It’s true, and I did the same lunchtime drinking as said crooks and chancers, but I had other ambitions in life that didn’t involve being a reptile, so I left.
The City of London is a place where the worst reptiles in Britain — perhaps in all of Europe — gather to bask in the sun we call Money, and they are truly vile, not to mention truly cold-blooded as befitting a reptile.
A young lad of 18, a descendant of immigrants, entered this reptile pit and did quite well for a few years, selling not pots and pans, not floor sweepers, not magic kitchen scrubbers but commodities. Metals, to be precise, much like the East London scrap dealers but with a more acceptable accent. He was good at it, being a natural barrow boy and so he prospered for twenty or more years until he saw a chance to make even more money.
That was Nigel Farage.
Nigel understood full well that the British public loves a barrow boy. After all, Nigel had grown up in the era of Kelvin MacKenzie, the thuggish editor of the Sun, and he knew that the utter stupidity of the nostalgic classes should never be underestimated.
What do I mean by nostalgic classes?
All countries that once operated a great empire have them. It takes centuries to create them and even more centuries to decommission them. These are the people who continue to believe in the empire’s greatness long after the empire is dead because without a belief in the greatness of empire they have no belief in anything — not even in themselves.
These are the people Nigel Farage has targeted successfully.
These are the people with a belief in their own greatness despite any supporting evidence. These are the people who believe Britain can be great again, echoing Trump’s mantra at the other side of the ocean, even though there is no evidence to support their view.
And thus it has been possible to persuade working-class Brits that they’ll be better off without EU protections for workers, better off in more dangerous working environments, better off with longer working hours, better off with no protection for their minimum wage.
Thus it has been possible to persuade Brits that they can kick out immigrants without thinking that all the Brits living in EU countries will have to go home and become a burden on the British economy.
Of course this has been possible. After all, didn’t the same Fleet Street red-tops persuade the same working-class Brits that Thatcher’s police should baton-charge their fellow workers off the streets?
Why? Because in modern Britain, the politics of the barrow-boy spiv wins the day.
In today’s Britain, people like Farage are seen as leaders instead of hucksters.
Tonight, Farage and Dave Cameron debate the issue on national television with Farage no doubt waving a pint and grinning like an ape. We’ll see what the people truly believe, but I suspect it will all be decided by Farage’s choice of beer.