Alphen, Netherlands. 8 May. Last night Nigel Farage and UKIP held their last and purposely multicultural pre-election rally in London. The British Electoral Survey also confirmed yesterday that 60% of those who intend to vote for UKIP in the elections to European Parliament on 22 May will also vote for the Party in the May 2015 British general election one year hence. UKIP is clearly a political force to stay in British and indeed European politics. Farage is essentially engaged in a battle over power and legitimacy in twenty-first century Europe. It is not the first time this has happened in European history.
Recently I have been re-reading a history of the Roman republic (as I am wont to) and I am struck by the striking similarity between Farage and one of the great, tragic figures of Roman history Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. Tiberius took on the Roman patrician establishment between 138 and 133 BC to fight for the right of landless peasants, particularly the veteran legionnaires who were the backbone of Rome’s famed armies.
The struggle of Tiberius was essentially between the rights of the ‘plebeian’ citizenry and what patrician aristocracy regarded as their natural ‘right’ to lead and indeed to benefit from Rome’s then expanding empire. Like today both groups campaigned publicly under the banner of ‘freedom’ and again like today’s EU elite Roman patricians demanded the ‘freedom’ to govern in the name of the republic and by extension the people. Indeed, for the patricians that was the implicit meaning of SPQR – Senatus Populus que Romanus.
Like Farage Tiberius was no man of the people. Indeed, Tiberius was just about as blue-blooded a Roman aristocrat as one could find. His mother Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus who had defeated Hannibal and Carthage in the Second Punic War at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. Tiberius was also the cousin of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus who destroyed Carthage in the Third Punic War which finally confirmed Roman power in the Mediterranean.
Tiberius was particularly concerned about the growing distance between patrician power and the people and the abuses of power such distance was generating. This is not unlike Farage’s concerns about the growing distance between the citizen and power in the EU as law-making authority is now routinely transferred to Brussels without popular assent or consent. Nor, judging from the huge amount of very deliberate dirt (and worse) being flung at Farage and UKIP by establishment politicians and their friends in the establishment Press is today’s response much different from that of Rome’s patricians. It is a mark of people’s concerns in Britain that Farage’s popularity increases with each smear. Today’s patricians have clearly lost the confidence of huge swathes of the people and rightly so.
It was the issue of broken trust that Tiberius championed and which Farage is successfully exploiting. The EU is simply not seen as being politically legitimate by huge numbers of British people. Worse, they feel their ability to influence power is being systematically threatened by the EU. What is the point in voting for national politicians with no power? That is little different to how Roman citizens and veteran legionnaires felt about Roman patricians in the second century BC.
Therefore, if the political Establishment, be it in Britain or elsewhere across the EU is going to stave off the growing popular revolt Farage is leading they must for once honour their word. They must openly and publicly stop the ever onward and insidious march of the illegitimate European federalists and return control of the EU’s destiny to the member-states and the people where it belongs. That means doing not merely talking.
The stakes then and now were and are enormous. Like Farage today the struggle Tiberius engaged in over power and legitimacy was enormous. By the second century BC the patrician class had successfully eroded the rights of the Roman citizen in much the same way the EU has successfully diluted the ability of the average European citizen to exert influence over Brussels.
The tragedy for Tiberius was that his struggle far from saving the Republic paved the way for its destruction. His eventual defeat confirmed the patricians in power and over the following century led to the dictatorships (Roman legal term) of Sulla, Pompey the Great and eventually Julius Caesar and Augustus. All of whom claimed falsely to be acting in the name of the Republic and betrayed it. The claims of the current EU patrician elite (and Brussels insiders really are a patrician elite) has a strikingly familiar ring at times when they claim to act on behalf of democracy, Europe and the people. Indeed, I used to be a great fan of the EU until I worked for it and saw too many of today's self-serving patricians (not all) at close quarters.
And hopefully Nigel Farage will not suffer the same grizzly fate as Tiberius. In 133 BC he was clubbed to death in the lee of the Capitoline Hill by a mob set on him by his arch-enemy (and cousin) Nasica. His headless body was then tossed into the Tiber.
It is precisely the distance of distant power that patricians exploit - then and now.
Nigellus Tiberius Farageus?