Meet Britain’s Rand Paul

When a diminutive man named Herman Van Rompuy was appointed the new president of the European Union back in 2010, its leaders probably thought he would be uncontroversial.

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Nigel Farage had other ideas. After Van Rompuy’s first presidential speech, Farage, head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), opened fire. “You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk!” Farage thundered. “And the question I want to ask is: Who are you? I’d never heard of you! Nobody in Europe had ever heard of you!”

Farage was later reprimanded for his tirade. That wouldn’t stop him over the next four years from raining torrents of abuse down on his fellow members of the European Parliament—an assembly line of buttoned-up useless functionaries if ever there was one. He called EU leaders “very dangerous people indeed,” “completely incompatible with nation-state democracy,” and, my favorite, “the bland leading the bland.”

For years the British establishment regarded Farage as a fringe figure and his party as a nuthouse for single-issue voters who wanted to leave the EU. Over and over again, UKIP was crushed at the polls by Britain’s more mainstream Conservative Party. But fast-forward to today and suddenly UKIP is expected to win this year’s elections. It’s an astonishing turnaround and excellent news for conservative libertarians across the world.

The Farage phenomenon has many similarities to the success Rand Paul is having here in the United States. Like Paul, Farage is running a damn-the-torpedoes campaign that’s capitalized on anti-establishment sentiment.

While the two don’t agree on everything—most notably Farage’s tough-as-nails position on immigration—UKIP’s opposition to the EU and Paul’s opposition to our federal bureaucracy are rooted in the same classical liberalism. Farage rarely misses a chance to describe himself as libertarian.

Like Paul, Farage has a charming and raffish political style. On the campaign trail he gives new meaning to Robin Williams’ description of the House of Commons as “Congress with a two-drink minimum.”

The man who summons hellfire in his EU speeches is rarely seen outside without a beer in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. He’s the antithesis of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, a former PR man who spends his time bragging about the fact that he rides his bicycle to work.

On foreign policy, Paul and Farage are of like minds. When Barack Obama asked Britain to jump into Syria’s civil war, David Cameron asked “How high?”

Farage blasted “extreme militarists” who subscribed to “the idea that somehow the rebels are the good guys and Assad are [sic] the bad guys.” A YouGov poll found only 24 percent of the British public supported intervening in Syria.

Then in August, in one of the most dramatic moments in Parliament in recent memory (and that’s saying something), thirty Conservative defectors crossed the aisle and the resolution for military action in Syria was defeated. As a chastened Cameron returned to the dispatch box after the vote, a chorus of MPs shouted, “Resign!”

It was a devastating loss and a sign that, at least on foreign policy, the future lies with Farage and not Cameron.

Chasms had begun to open under the Conservative Party long before the Syria vote. If Farage had a shot-heard-round-the-world moment, it might have been last April when Tory minister Kenneth Clarke said of UKIP, “It is very tempting to vote for a collection of clowns or indignant angry people.”

As Peter Hitchens later wrote, “For a moment, national political discourse fell silent as the words sank in. And then legions of ancient, devoted Tories, who had spent decades stuffing envelopes, hammering on doors, and attending wearisome wine-and-cheese fundraising gatherings so as to put people like Mr. Clarke in office, turned to each other in wild surmise and asked: ‘Does he mean…us?’”

Since then there’s been a great snowballing of events—Syria, growing anti-EU sentiment—that’s left those hardy Tory canvassers ready to defect and pull the lever for UKIP.

Caught off guard by UKIP’s ascendance, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a fervent apologist for the EU, agreed to two public debates with Farage. He was thrashed all over the stage, with surveys showing hefty majorities thought Farage won both contests. The election polls have Conservatives trailing both UKIP and the left-wing Labour party by significant margins.

It’s a sobering reminder of what could have happened here if the Tea Party had divorced itself from the GOP. But it’s also reason for good cheer. Farage isn’t a carbon copy of Rand Paul, but UKIP falls under the same umbrella of libertarian insurgency that’s been developing here in America.

If UKIP wins the next round of elections on May 22, as every poll suggests it will, the tectonics beneath London will shift and another political establishment will be left reeling and clutching its head.

That’s reason enough to raise a pint—provided you’re not a low-grade bank clerk, of course.

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