At first glance it may be said that discussing the ins and outs of UKIP’s former leader is somewhat off topic in terms of the Master Investor remit. But of course, given the way that Nigel Farage spoke twice at Master Investor and has been interviewed both by Jim Mellon this year and by myself a couple of years back, one would say that he is something of an exception who proves the rule. In fact, I would venture to suggest that like him or loathe him, he was exceptional at breaking the rules in politics and perhaps even in public life as a whole. The plain speaking was always a breath of fresh air, with the irony being that he became one of the most influential politicians in the land without even needing to have a seat at Westminster.
We have been shown with the rise and fall of Farage how much the media in general and social media have drained the power of Parliament, and how the ability to dominate these spheres since the start of the decade has really been transformational to the fortunes of those who have such gifts. True, amongst more conventional politicians we have Boris Johnson who did win a seat overnight, as an example of the kind of Teflon and blunt right wing character that Farage is related to. But he alone with his trademark pint and disdain for career politicians led the way in being one of the rarest of beings, a middle class rebel. Clearly, such an assessment of the man sets aside the controversy of the UKIP offering, especially with relation to immigration, and it is difficult to isolate the policies as being anything more than an “anti-foreign” agenda. However, despite the lack of seats, it was enough to get 10% plus of the votes – pretty impressive for what is effectively a one-policy party.
In fact, the main reason I am commemorating Mr Farage’s political career (it may not be over just yet) is by lamenting the way that he was not able to widen the appeal of the party by expanding the appeal of its policies. True, a few weeks back we were treated to its broader manifesto. Unfortunately, the kind of radical moves which one might have expected such as restructuring of the tax/welfare systems, the NHS and even abolition of the BBC were simply not in evidence. The sad fact for UKIP and Farage is that they simply did not have the bottle to stray from the anti-EU/immigration mantra that its “fruitcakes and loons” apparently hold so dear. The message from the Polls is that you can get a tenth of the vote by addressing this part of the population, but if you want to get some seats in the House of Commons, a wider set of policies is required.
I put this point to Farage himself at a fundraiser in late 2013. He seemed interested in what I said, as something which would be the only way of the party being a genuinely disruptive and large enough threat to the major parties. Nevertheless, I never got the opportunity of helping or advising as I would have liked. Ironically, if I had been given the opportunity, it has to be said that the UKIP agenda is not really my own, it is just the overall interest in politics that I have which would have been the driver: along the lines of a policy consultant.
What will be interesting to see over the coming months is whether either Farage or his successors will learn the lessons of being a “one trick pony” at a time when, given the acute UK deficit issues, we do need a radical approach, in contrast to the housing bubble policies of David Cameron and friends.