Nigel Farage, one of the most colourful men in British politics has been re-elected as leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Farage beat fellow MEP David Campbell Bannerman, ex boxer Winston McKenzie and the economist Tim Congdon with 60% of the vote and replaces Lord Pearson who resigned after less than a year in office.
Ever one for the snappy line Mr Farage told the press on Friday, the day the result was announced, ‘I note with delight that today is November 5th, a symbolic day of an attempt to overthrow the political class, although I promise our methods will be peaceful.’
Farage previously led UKIP for three years during which time the party shocked its larger rivals by coming a respectable third in the elections to the European Parliament and stood down to challenge commons speaker John Bercow in the general election. He failed in that particular endeavour, but a Dick Dastardly style plane crash on Election Day gained him both headlines and much public sympathy.
Lord Pearson, the outgoing leader who despite his self described image as ‘the toff who didn’t bother to read his own manifesto’ added a respectable 3% to the party’s share of the vote said that the UKIP crown had ‘returned to its rightful owner’, before adding ‘What sort of crown it is I leave up to you.’
Before we go any further I had better make it clear that I am in no way a supporter of UKIP. Their policies, such as they are, seem to be an uncomfortable blend of thinly disguised prejudice and the sort of things red faced men moan about in golf club bars. That said it is hard not to warm to a man like Nigel Farage.
In an age when vanilla is always the political flavour of the month he is that rarest of things a genuine eccentric. In a week when it was revealed that David Cameron has put his publicity photographer on the public payroll, along with his stylist and his PR guru, this matters more than ever.
Let’s compare the two men; Cameron is an old school aristocrat who pretends to be a metropolitan liberal, a man of the people or a disciple of the Iron Lady depending on the day of the week. It’s an act he pulls off with consummate skill, but, at the end of the day it is still just that; an act. What he thinks or feels on a personal level is a mystery, to him as much as us I imagine after five years of frantic posturing for the cameras.
Nigel Farage, by contrast, is, or seems to be anyway, a genuine rebel. A man who says what he thinks and worries about who it might offend afterwards, consider, for example, the comments he made about EU President, the unrecognizable Herman Von Rumpoy, saying that he looked like a ‘low grade bank clerk’ and has all the charisma of ‘a damp rag.’ That isn’t the sort of thing politicians usually say, but it is the sort of thing the people they’re having an ever harder time persuading to go out and vote for them often think.
It is a truth so obvious to have become a cliché to say that all political careers end in failure sooner or later, but it is still possible to speculate just what form that failure will take.
For David Cameron it will probably come about when the public fall out of love with the image his ‘brand team’ are carefully constructing for him. Then, like Tony Blair, he’ll probably spend the twilight of his career making lucrative, though utterly inconsequential, speeches to the trade organisation for people who make toilet rolls.
We will know Nigel Farage has reached this unhappy point when, like Tony Benn, he becomes a sort of living history exhibit to be politely ignored by an establishment to which he is no longer a threat. Along the way though he might just give said establishment a more than a few shocks and scares by doing in his own eccentric way something they find increasingly difficult; communication with a public that more and more wishes its politicians would shut up and go away.