COMMENT: Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage talks to Herald writer Simon Wilson ahead of his visit to Auckland in early September.
Nigel Farage is a very nice man. On the phone from London, it's not even 6am his time and he's courteous to a fault, steering the conversation with generous warmth to the things he needs me to understand. The sad facts about what's gone wrong in the world, the reassuring ideas he has on how to fix it all up.
He was so friendly, such a charmer. He's also been accused of systematically lying: remember, for example, during the Brexit referendum, the £350 million ($675.5m) a week that his campaign repeatedly claimed Britain was paying the EU? Farage admitted it wasn't true the morning after the vote.
He's been accused of hate speech. Remember his poster with a crowd of mostly non-white refugees and the slogan "Breaking point: the EU has failed us all"? That was called a "blatant attempt to incite racial hatred".
What does personal decency say about your politics? Are the nice guys the good guys? Are bad guys a little less bad if they're nice?
I asked Farage if there were any groups in Europe he would call fascist.
"Well, Golden Dawn in Greece," he said. "They're neo-Nazis, they're quite happy to say that."
He said he couldn't think of any others.
Farage is a member of the European Parliament (EP), where he leads a group of 43 MEPs called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, or EFD2. It's sort of far right, but it's different from the actual far right group Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which includes National Rally, the French party of Marine Le Pen formerly known as the National Front.
What is the far right, exactly?
"To be absolutely honest," said Farage, "the far right is based on hatred. That's my definition."
How does he distinguish? "Some on the far right want us to ban the religion. I don't. I need to draw a strong distinction between Islam and Islamisation."
Do all his allies draw that distinction? What about Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary who calls migration "a poison" and says Syrian asylum seekers are "Muslim invaders"?
"Viktor Orban," said Farage, "wishes to preserve Judeo-Christianity, and not open his country to mass immigration".
What about the Freedom Party in Austria, which has its origins in the Nazi Party?
"Whatever the roots of the party, it's part of the government now, so now it's grown up."
What about Sweden Democrats, which used to be a white supremacist party whose members wore Nazi uniforms to meetings?
They're not far right either, said Farage. They're poised for electoral success next month, having modernised their image, changing their symbol from a fascist-style torch to a blue daisy, introducing a "uniform ban", and campaigning hard against immigration.
Immigration is the unifier. "Strictly controlled immigration," said Farage. He agreed it was the issue that "caused a high turnout in the Brexit referendum", but said UKIP is "not against immigration".
There are people spreading hatred in Europe, but he wanted me to know he and his friends are not among them. Nigel Farage is a very nice man.
The Brash debate
Don Brash is a very nice man too. He stayed nice – courteous, polite and grinning away – right through the debate on free speech at the University of Auckland earlier this month.
The lecture hall was full and the majority were there for Brash, although a sizeable contingent of Brash opponents turned up with placards and a loudhailer. There were also quite a few non-partisans.
When Brash got up to speak the protesters drowned him out. They used the loudhailer to read a letter, and then they sang. But you couldn't hear what was in the letter because the pro-Brash crowd also made a racket, chanting his name and drowning out the protesters.
Eventually, the protesters fell silent and Brash delivered his speech. He was heckled, and the hecklers were counter-heckled, but he delivered the speech and everyone could hear it. After that, the protesters left.
Brash said the protesters had proved his point. But did they? Heckling is not a denial of free speech. Nobody was prevented from speaking. Nobody resorted to violence, either, although a couple of Brash supporters did get right in the face of the protesters, who did their best to ignore them.
Free speech was exercised most vigorously that night, by everyone involved.
Don Brash is proud to be a nice man. Does that count for something?
Since he launched his attacks on Māori in 2004, he's received many invitations to visit marae, read books, listen to speakers, learn more about what he's talking about. He confesses he's done very little of it. He said at a function in Hamilton two weeks ago that he does not know much about the history of Māori and Pakeha relations.
He has very strong views on something about which, I would say, he has kept himself wilfully ignorant.
It causes harm. Real harm to vulnerable people, because he holds back the social progress that might be made to help them. That's why he attracts protest: he insists on the right to speak while refusing to listen, with damaging consequences for people he never meets.
But Don Brash is a very nice man.
The 'seismic upheaval'
Nigel Farage told me a "seismic upheaval, a populist revolt" is going on all over Europe and all over much the world. I believe him. That's why he's coming here. Because he hopes it will happen here.
Tell me about the seismic upheaval, I said.
He said, "The establishment is out of kilter. Giant multinationals virtually own the lawmaking and that doesn't do anything for ordinary men and women."
Yes, I said, but why do you think Brexit will do anything to change that?
"It will if it's delivered properly," he said. "If it's a clean Brexit". Just scrap all the European rules and start again.
"If we do that, the benefits will be in employment, the environment, and it will be much more likely to boost small and medium businesses."
I can't find any independent evidence for those claims.
He steered us back to immigration, and declared: "What's really at stake, the really big thing, is the nation."
I asked him what he would have to say to the New Zealand nation, bicultural, founded on a treaty, with no waves of migrants from former colonies, or the satellite countries of the former Soviet Union, or other European countries, or the drought and war zones of northern Africa and the Middle East. It's different here.
He said he'd be talking about Britain and Europe.
Aotea Centre face-off
Douglas Murray is a very nice man. The British writer debated the crisis facing the West last week in the Aotea Centre, with socialist and Harvard professor Cornel West.
Both played to a charming type: Murray the thoughtful and quietly spoken Englishman, West an oratorically inspired Baptist preacher. Their contest rarely too the form of open disagreement; rather, they stuck to out-eruditing each other.
He didn't reveal it on the night, but Murray is every bit as extreme as Farage on Britain and Europe – his book sounds the tell-tale Armageddon-is-nigh note in its title, The Strange Death of Europe. Nor did he say what he thought of Donald Trump, which was a shame, because whether you think Trump is part of the problem or part of the solution is a terrific indicator of where you really stand on things.
He did say it's good we're talking, and that's true. There's more of this to come, too, with the feminist Roxane Gay due here in March to debate with Christina Hoff Sommers, who shares many of Murray's views.
With luck they'll sharpen up their actual disagreements, regardless of how nice they might also be.
Ah, but Nigel Farage is a very nice man. Although he does rather slide off every question anyone puts to him. Does he think Donald Trump ever goes too far?
"Donald Trump is a good friend of mine," he said, "and you have to understand him as being completely outside any norms we've ever seen." He laughed. It was a kind of chuckle, really.
"But I'll tell you what, he is delivering on the promises he made the electorate."
Is he? He was against crookedness, wasn't he? And didn't he promise to drain the swamp?
"Have a look at the people around him. There's a whole series of people who are not part of the Washington elite."
In fact, Trump has mostly employed insiders, especially from the leading Wall St firm Goldman Sachs. What about his relationship with Russia?
"Clearly that's a relationship that isn't going very far." That hardly seems true either.
I asked him about his own relationship with Russia, through RT, the leading TV network formerly called Russia Today. He said he didn't really have one.
In January this year he was accused by a security analyst, testifying to the US House intelligence committee, of being a conduit between Russia and Julian Assange.
Farage, who is currently not the UKIP leader, is relaunching himself back into British politics. He was slightly coy about it.
"I'll tell you what, if I do come back, I know what I'll do."
"No more Mr Nice Guy."
What does that mean?
"It's not just about policies now. There's been a total breach of trust and I'm going to go after all those who are responsible."
He's got a prime minister to roll, and all those soft-Brexit saboteurs in her cabinet along with her. Nigel Farage is a very nice man. Until the day he isn't.
• Nigel Farage speaks in Auckland on September 4.