A common attack line against populist politicians such as Nigel Farage or Donald Trump is that their attacks on contemporary elites are in some sense inauthentic because they themselves are members of those elites. Trump is, after all, a billionaire who has been prominent in New York corporate circles for almost half a century. His social milieu has included Wall Street titans, very senior politicians, and key figures in the world of entertainment.

Fundamentally, Hislop is far more entangled with, and sympathetic to, our true elites than Nigel Farage

Our Nige, meanwhile, may not be a billionaire, but he attended Dulwich College, a prominent public school, and made a good living as a commodities trader in the City. He has wealthy allies, such as the pro-Brexit businessman Arron Banks. His recent sixtieth birthday party was held at an upscale restaurant in Canary Wharf.

How then, goes the argument, can we regard either of these men as genuinely opposed to the establishment? They are mere cynics, exploiting the gullible and resentful masses for their own nefarious purposes. One prominent proponent of this point of view is Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. Last week he was rehashing it yet again on the News Agents podcast, a bastion of the kind of the kind of weedy, complacent Sensibleism of which Mr Hislop is such an enthusiastic advocate. Hislop stated that Farage’s self-presentation was ‘bogus’ because he acts like a ‘working-class hero’, despite his educational and career background. But this is nonsense.

For one thing Farage, as far as I am aware, has never claimed to be working-class. What he does claim – like the Donald – is that he is a voice for the unfashionable and neglected parts of British society: those who have experienced what one writer has called ‘existential defeat’, i.e. seeing their values, lifestyle and aspirations derided and marginalised by Official Britain.

“Nigel Farage – a prep school boy who went into The City – is a working class hero? Come on.”

Why do we allow the political elite to pose as “outsiders”?

? https://t.co/SdyBDl7Yow@lewis_goodall | Ian Hislop | @GlobalPlayer pic.twitter.com/14v4LHQdtj

— The News Agents (@TheNewsAgents) April 5, 2024

For another, Hislop is totally failing to understand where power lies in Britain today. His concept of the Establishment seems to be stuck in about 1952, with landowners and bishops and retired generals conspiring on the hunting field, or reactionary judges and captains of industry whispering behind the Daily Telegraph in gentlemen’s clubs. Farage might have fitted in quite nicely in some parts of this establishment, although many of its members would have taken a dim view of his occupation. But that it just not what British public life is like in 2024. Real administrative and cultural power is held by a class of obsessive egalitarians: activist lawyers and judges, civil servants, academics, quangocrats, arts administrators, teachers, and broadcast media executives. Only a few weeks back the head of MI6 was forced to resign from his club because it does not admit women. The courts take an enthusiastically political role in reviewing government legislation. Ofcom has the power to punish GB News for the most preposterous of offences against ‘impartiality’, while the BBC pushes social and cultural liberalism incessantly. Schools enable ‘social gender transition’ of confused kids in defiance of government instruction. The equality and diversity agenda is enforced across the entire public sector, including the armed forces, and increasingly in the private sector too. It is this new establishment, much more ruthless and unyielding than the old one, to which Nigel Farage is undeniably and eternally an outsider and an enemy. He was instrumental in Britain leaving the EU. He did not attend university; he likes beer and smokes cigarettes. Everything about him, from his accent to his manner to his preferred style of dress, sets him apart.

Ian Hislop, by contrast, is very comfortable with this world. He is nearing the end of the his fourth decade in the editor’s chair at Private Eye, a post he assumed when I was three years old and no one had heard of the internet. He produces mildly whimsical documentaries for the BBC, and churns out two series per year of Have I Got News For You, a programme that started when the Soviet Union still existed, and was past its best 15 years ago. He is sympathetically profiled in the press. You will search his public pronouncements in vain for any meaningful dissent from modern pieties about net zero, immigration, drugs, race relations, the EU, abortion, and transgenderism. The Eye grumbles quietly about corruption in Brussels and the vacuity of contemporary architecture, but Hislop has been loudly anti-Brexit and would no doubt enjoy sniping from the sidelines in the unlikely event that a politician tried to insist on more traditional architecture in public buildings.

Fundamentally, he is far more entangled with, and sympathetic to, our true elites than Nigel Farage. This means that on his own terms, he is very ill-suited to editing a satirical magazine or being a team captain on an allegedly satirical TV show. Hislop claims that populists who are themselves quasi-establishment figures are ipso facto untrustworthy and cynical, and that their antagonism to the governing classes is all for show. But this is surely also true of the satirist who has cosied up to the status quo in so many areas.

Hislop would doubtless defend himself by saying that he should be judged on his work and his arguments rather than anything else. And this defence is correct – but also completely contradicted by those dismissive insinuations about Farage’s alleged closeness to the establishment. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

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