Back in the 1970s I went to school with Nigel Farage at Dulwich College, the alma mater of Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse and (perhaps less impressive) the comedian Bob Monkhouse. Farage was not much liked by other boys, who found him cocky at times and opinionated. The National Front (the forerunner of the BNP) were once more in the ascendancy and Farage was said to be sympathetic to the aims (if not the methods) of some of its members.
One of my English teachers, Chlöe Deakin, went so far as to denounce Farage as a goose-stepping liability. In a letter to the headmaster dated 4 June 1981 she complained that the future UKIP leader had “publicly professed racist and neo-fascist views”. With a group of school army cadets, the 17-year-old stockbroker’s son had “marched through a quiet Sussex village very late at night shouting Hitler Youth songs”. When it was suggested by the teacher present that boys who expressed such views “don’t really mean them”, the school chaplain replied that, on the contrary, views of that kind expressed by boys of that age are often “deep-seated, and are meant”. It was only a shame that “the boy N.P Farage” (as Deakin called him) should subsequently have been made a prefect.
Of course, what a schoolboy got up to thirty years ago in a sleepy (now undoubtedly Brexit) Sussex village is not necessarily relevant to us today. Deakin (a self-proclaimed “political moderate” who lived in a flat in the well-appointed Albany, Piccadilly) nevertheless seems to have uncannily identified Farage in embryo. To the headmaster she continued: “You will recall that at the recent, and lengthy, meeting about the selection of prefects, the remark by a colleague that Farage was a ‘fascist, but that was no reason why he would not make a good prefect’ invoked considerable reaction from members of the Common Room”. Reportedly, Farage had been “so offensive” to one boy that he had to be thrown out of the classroom.
Farage’s appointment as prefect would “vastly increase” his “sense of self-justification” and pomposity, warned Deakin. His peers would either “adopt him as an exemplar, or, as is much more likely, regard his appointment with disillusionment and cynicism when they observe that his notorious views and behavior, well known to both Master and members of the staff, are, as it would appear, condoned by them.” Staff who believed that Farage had been made a prefect “through a democratic process”, will, said Deakin, “be shocked, saddened, angered, and disheartened.”
Deakin implored the headmaster: “I have often heard you tell our senior boys that they are the nation’s future leaders. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that these leaders are enlightened and compassionate…” That a pupil such as Farage should have had “bestowed upon him the prestige of office and authority” was, Deakin thought, “distasteful”. Already a master-manipulator of invective, Nigel’s larky behavior (“Can’t you take a joke?”) concealed the shadow of a more unpleasant race politics and “bullying of the nastiest kind”, Deakin stressed.
Notoriously, 1981 was a year of convulsive political tensions, when the National Front began to march through immigrant pockets of south London and the police used the school playing fields as an operational base during the Brixton riots. In his 2010 memoir-cum-manifesto, Fighting Bull, Farage alludes briefly to the row about him being made a Dulwich College prefect; some teachers, he claims, were hostile to him because he admired Enoch Powell, the former Conservative who had long warned of the dangers of immigration and the neo-liberal values of “assimilation” and “integration”. Really? In her letter, Chlöe Deakin suggests that Farage was expressing opinions rather to the right of Powell and, anyway, as Tory health minister between 1960 and 1963, Powell had invited Commonwealth citizens to come and work in the NHS. Powell was not (or not always) the racist that some on the British Left make him out to be.