Nigel Farage may not be the best-loved emergency service, but as demonstrated by his recent work for GB News, the struggling, consciously patriotic news channel, he is always available, willing to take on jobs most broadcasters wouldn’t touch, and delivers reliably transformative effects.
Two weeks ago, GB News was considered merely unpleasant, unsuccessful and unwatchably amateurish. Now, with its new Farage programme on every day, it looks well placed to be far more intensely and widely disliked, including by those who haven’t seen the channel’s line in impartial headlines – “Cocky Forecasters”, “Freedom Farce” – and now never will. Though, after watching the channel last week, I can’t really think of this as – on their part – a loss.
With his description of the RNLI as a migrants’ “taxi service”, Farage has already supplied his trademark contaminant. The same instinct that saw him blemish, perhaps ineradicably, the reputation of LBC, ensured that what could have been an examination of the current demands on the RNLI shortly descended into a personal attack on a charity that has actually earned national gratitude and affection.
Anyone hoping to out-offend Farage will have to consider going for St John Ambulance or maybe a baby hedgehog sanctuary, Sir David Attenborough having already served his turn. A simple attack on, say, the Church of England, which, of course, Farage does attack, on account of woke bishops, could never have elicited the public reaction when he, near blasphemously and quite falsely, suggested his target was using sly PR tactics (“I wonder if the RNLI used the same PR firm as Harry and Meghan?”) to victimise him.
“So I’m the baddy who’s led to this horrible situation,” Farage said, before reminding his allegedly noble adversaries that Eternal Father Strong to Save would be no help whatsoever against him, Trump’s actual friend, someone who reportedly warbled Hitler Youth songs as a schoolboy: “I’ve fought bigger and uglier than you.” That would show the life-saving bastards.
The revulsion could be measured in record donations to the RNLI and in news stories publicising the arrival of Farage as lead guarantor of offensiveness on GB News.
The ‘woke mob’ has shown itself unresponsive to most GB taunting to a degree that might raise doubts about its malign reach
If that sounds like a minor challenge, Farage’s fellow provocateurs, from whose ranks Andrew Neil has recently disappeared, could confirm that winding up “the woke mob” (as presenter Dan Wootton terms people GB News disagrees with) is not just relentless – with outrage, like wind power, having to be constantly generated – but a good deal more difficult than it looks. Being reliably 100% odious might seem like the simplest thing in the world – slag off Simone Biles, ridicule quotas, net zero, Europeans, etc – but GB News is competing with experienced providers at, for example, the Spectator, the Telegraph and Mail, even at the Times and the BBC, the very outfits the new broadcaster likes to denounce as timidly “mainstream”. What, shock-wise, is left for presenters who must compete with a mainstream-employed contrarian who glories, on Twitter, in a young woman’s death?
GB News is further constrained, if it wants to outdo established irritants such as Giles Coren, Jonathan Sumption or Toby Young, by Ofcom’s rules on “due impartiality”. As much as it might enjoy the occasional attention-drawing reprimand, the news channel is required to offset, say, a climate-crisis denier with a respectable guest, although it elsewhere allows itself considerable freedom, particularly in US coverage. Farage misses his pal Trump and his famous (their ban is omitted) tweets. “We’ve got this guy Biden in,” he lamented last week, during a gloat about Joe Biden’s ratings with Ted Cruz, the anti-abortion Republican, “and now we don’t hear anything.”
Professor Neil Ferguson is another subject on which the presenters run free, with Michelle Dewberry, alumna of TV’s The Apprentice and former pro-Brexit candidate, rubbishing an unrepresented Ferguson and his modelling: “I sit here and I just say, enough.” Additional abuse came from Wootton, who is worth catching at least once for his ability, like a ventriloquist’s wicked doll, to deliver a stream of insults through permanently bared teeth: “The bloke is a charlatan.”
As for “the woke mob”, along with sufferers from a “metropolitan mindset”, it has shown itself unresponsive to most GB News taunting to a degree that might raise doubts about its malign reach and cohesion, were it not that a cowardly refusal to take on Wootton’s grin is precisely what you’d expect from a faction that thinks vaccine passports could be quite a good idea.
It might, however, have been predicted from a poll showing that anti-wokeness, a shibboleth so critical to GB News, seems to be only patchily understood by a public that refuses to organise itself along the tidy lines assumed by Neil when he pledged to “expose the growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is”.
As if to confirm this difficulty, the first major cancel crisis at GB News came from within, when it had to cancel itself for letting Guto Harri – previously masquerading as a trusted Boris Johnson apologist! – take a knee. As much as the step must have grieved this broadcaster, a sworn opponent of ideological “echo chambers”, Harri was instantly muted, with the new star, Farage simply re-promising “both sides of every argument”. This no doubt genuine offer still suffers, some viewers may think, from the presenters’ habit of depicting alternative views as the alien property of leftist propagandists or “woketopian snowflakes”, to the point, as above, of declaring war on a non-compliant charity.
Whether most of GB News’s guests – Farage’s have included the Conservatives Ann Widdecombe, Stanley Johnson, Graham Brady, Colonel Bob Stewart – only accidentally endorse, with uncanny regularity, the libertarian attitudinising of their hosts, or it’s just that nobody else will come on, the result threatens neither media echo chambers nor Farage’s trademark rants. On the contrary, those who should surely fear the impact of Farage, the hammer of unnecessary life-saving – with Andrew Neil perhaps having the most reputationally to lose – are those in peril on GB.
• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist