“Toujours l’attaque!” said Napoleon. Always attack.

“Toujours l’attaque!” said Napoleon. Always attack.

He was right. Now more than ever.

In our politically correct culture of egg-shell-treading, mealy-mouthed, career safety the way to catch the enemy off balance is not by playing their cautious, defensive game but by attacking them head on – a bit like Napoleon used to do with his columns en colonne. Or, come to that, as Nelson used his fleet at Trafalgar.

Which brings us inevitably to Nigel Farage and the lap dancing club incident. Towards the end of a boozy lunch last week with some parliamentary journalists, the UKIP leader was asked how he felt that one of his party’s candidates in the imminent county elections was the proprietor of Northampton’s premier lapdancing club. Farage replied to the effect that this was a good thing because clearly the fellow was a successful entrepreneur.

Immediately afterwards, the story got some intense – if shortlived – media play. We heard not only about the Northampton club, but also about Farage’s shock confession that he had been to such establishments himself, most recently in the company of a future French presidential candidate.

I say “shock” because that, clearly, was how the various political reporters were desperately trying to play it. And you can’t blame them for it: this is what they have been conditioned by our culture to do. You persuade your politician to have rather more drinks than he should (never a great challenge with Farage), get him to say something indiscreet about which you then – on your readers’ behalf – feign unease. Et, la voila, there’s your story. With possibly a follow-up story about some offended pressure group’s aggrieved reaction. And possibly a follow up to that one where the politician grovellingly retracts.

But Farage wasn’t playing ball. It’s really quite difficult to get much scandal value from a story about a party political leader who endorses and frequents lapdancing clubs when that party political leader’s response is a jovial “Yeah. And?” First, if that politician fails to be suitably embarrassed, contrite or – best of all – demonstrably mendacious, then he has taken away half the sport. Second, more dangerously, you expose yourself to the possibility that your readers will agree with the politician’s own assessment that what you have here, basically, is a bit of a non-story.

Please, though, don’t think I’m trying to hail Farage as some genius tactician here. “Answer the question honestly” is not a stratagem you can only come up with after a lifetime studying Thucydides, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. On the contrary, it’s plain, basic commonsense. If it seems anything more than that, it’s because of the times we live in. Or, to put it another way, it’s not so much that Nigel Farage is particularly clever so much as that everyone else is so ineffably, gobsmackingly stupid.

Really, we all ought to have noticed this by now: that the politicians we most like – and, perhaps more importantly, respect – are the ones we deem to be the most authentic. Thanks to the way he has taken on the teachers’ unions – and by extension the hard-left at its most shrill and vocal – Michael Gove ought to be among the most hated figures in the Coalition. But he’s not. He gets away it for the same reason Boris Johnson gets away with his political gaffes and his amorous indiscretions; for the same reason Ken Clarke – against all evidence – manages successfully to pass himself off as a Tory; and for the same reason Farage is doing so well in the polls: because they are all seen as real, straight-talking people rather than career-safe automatons; because they’re so evidently not embarrassed about who they are and where they’ve come from; because they’re happy in their skins.

This sets them apart from the vast majority of politicians who are anything but happy in their skins. As witness David Cameron. Yes, his epic, Etonian complacency might lead you briefly to think otherwise. But just look how eager he is to dissociate himself from his Eton and Bullingdon club past. Then compare his response with that of his Eton contemporary Boris Johnson.

Dave considers his privileged education a stigma – and by thinking so has made it into a stigma. Boris, on the other hand, would consider it perverse and bizarre to feel remotely ashamed at having had the best education in the world – and by thinking this way has turned what could have been a curse into a blessing.

To set all this in its proper context I’d like at this stage to invoke a third Old Etonian – George Orwell. “In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” he said. You can, I hope, see how this applies both to Boris and his Eton/Bullingdon past and to Farage and his lapdancing. But it also applies to many other areas, beyond party politics – everywhere from the rigged gold market (which we discussed here last week) to the climate change debate.

I was having a conversation about this the other week with the Mail On Sunday’s David Rose – one of only a handful of journalists in Britain to cover the global warming story from a sceptical angle. “There’s just SO MUCH low-hanging fruit!” said Rose. By which he meant that in any given week, there’s a good half dozen juicy stories involving corruption, incompetence or outright lunacy in the climate change industry which any half-way decent journalist ought to be falling over himself to cover. Instead, Rose, Christopher Booker, Richard North, Andrew Montford, Andrew Orlowski – and a small gang of fellow happy warriors around the world – have got these stories to ourselves. And again, it’s not because we’re brilliant, or spectacularly insightful or especially skilled at tracking down scoops. Rather it’s because the competition is so unbelievably crap.

And the reason the competition is so unbelievably crap is because of that cultural conditioning I mentioned right at the start. People are afraid to speak their minds; they’re afraid to tell the truth; they’re afraid to question the consensus (scientific or otherwise) because they’re fearful that if they do they’ll be socially ostracised or that they won’t get as many votes or that they’ll lose business contracts or that they’ll get the sack.

But the lesson of Farage (and Boris and Gove and of the climate wars and of my recent victory in the 2013 Bloggies and of the recent gold bust that never was and of a thousand and one other things besides we could all name if we gave it some thought) is that these fears are misplaced. Boldness is the new caution, you might say, if you wanted to be glib.

Personally, though, I’d prefer “A l’attaque, mes braves! Toujours, toujours l’attaque!

13 comments on ““Toujours l’attaque!” said Napoleon. Always attack.

  1. tallbloke
    April 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    “George Orwell. “In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” he said.”

    And in that he was channelling an earlier iconoclast – Rosa Luxemburg:
    ” “The most revolutionary thing one can do always is to proclaim loudly what is happening.”

    ” in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight.”

    Curious it is to find the confluence of threads from across the political spectrum joining forces to push through the inertia of the current state to reclaim what is ours:-

    ‘The old laws of England – they
    Whose reverend heads with age are gray,
    Children of a wiser day;
    And whose solemn voice must be
    Thine own echo – Liberty!

  2. Hannah L (@HannahLonline)
    April 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    This is so true. Nigel epitomises this kind of approach and is gaining headway because of it. DC tries to please everyone but ironically everyone ends up hating him because he’s no cojones! It’s ultimately a loser’s game!

  3. fenbeagleblog
    April 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    ‘Always attack!’…It doesn’t work in fencing. ‘Always outwit your opponent!’….That works.

    • The Remittance Man
      May 1, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Ignoring the fact that to outwit your opponent, he has to have wits for you to out, let me ask one question: In fencng what is the prupose of the outwitting? To let him win? Or to defeat him by attacking in an unexpected way?

  4. lanthalus
    April 28, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    The irony is that down the pub, where there is a marked tendency to meet real people, the views of Farage, Booker, Montford, Orlowski, North (and yourself) aren’t controversial at all.

  5. Philip Foster
    April 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    That was the secret of Maggie’s success. That and actually doing things, not gassing about doing things.
    A splendid letter in the Telegraph recently quoted a G.K.Chesterton story where the detective (Father Brown) says,
    “… men could go on saying for days that something ought to be done, or might as well be done. But if you convey to a woman that something ought to be done, there is always a dreadful danger that she will suddenly do it.”

  6. Henry Brubaker (@Inst_4_Studies)
    May 1, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Of course, it should be pointed out that Napoleons columns often came very unstuck when they met the British thin red line.

    “They came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way.”

    The words of Wellington after the Batlle of Waterloo.

    The idea of the column, a dense mass of men, might be theoretically sound but the reality of the front ranks of the column being turned into a pink mush by the massed fire of a british battalion in line formation meant those behind soon lost their nerve and ran. Often chased down by the british solider in a bayonet charge…

    Two ragged volleys and a bayonet charge would often put a French regiment to flight.

    • Pedders
      May 1, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Thats not because the theory was wrong …its because they were French ….

    • The Remittance Man
      May 1, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      Er no. If it only took two ragged volleys and a bayonet charge to defeat a Napoleonic column, Boney’s career would have ended with the Italian campaign.

      It actually took four or more disciplined volleys (more typically platoon fire) from troops who were trained and disciplined enough not to run.

  7. Dry end of the Titanic
    May 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    The ever excellent Sean Bean in the Sarpe series showed this Henry.

    But if you don’t run, if you stand till you can smell the garlic and fire volley after volley, three rounds a minute. Then they slow down. They stop. And then they run away. All you’ve got to do is stand and fire three rounds a minute.

    Now, you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute.

    But can you Stand?


    That’s how Napoleon and his dream of empire was defeated.

  8. andycanuck
    May 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Ignoring Assaye, Salamanca, Vitoria, the invasion of France including Toulouse and all of the stormed fortresses, yes, Wellington was defensive-minded but I think following up two volleys with a bayonet charge still counts as being “offensive” even if tactical and not strategic.


  1. I couldn't care less if Nigel Farage visited a strip club. He's honest, that's what matters – Telegraph Blogs - April 26, 2013

    […] for me what's most interesting about the story is not what it says about Farage's tactical genius – Is he the new Nelson and Napoleon combined, I ask at Bogpaper.com. Or is it just that the competiti… – is what it says about our political and media culture more […]

  2. My Ukip candidate brother's secret Nazi past… – Telegraph Blogs - April 30, 2013

    […] What pleases me about all this is the response of the Ukip high command. They are, shall we say, intensely relaxed about this shocking scandal. As Nigel Farage demonstrated in his response to the "Ukip candidate runs lap-dancing club" shock horror non-story and is now demonstrating in his amused response to this one, you don't win wars by fighting your battles on the enemy's terms. […]

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