Save the loons. Nige needs his nutters

Alistair Thompson says it would be a mistake for UKIP to get rid of its colourful characters
Alistair Thompson is MIP's Managing Director

Alistair Thompson is MIP’s Managing Director

The leaderships of the three main parties are baffled. Day after day they hope, some believe contribute, to exposing the colourful past, or comments of some UKIP minnow, but still Nigel Farage and his fledging party continue to rise in the polls.

A succession of surveys now put UKIP’s poll rating in the mid-20s, on course to come a strong second in May’s European elections, while political betting sites have them as odds on favourites to win.

So why does UKIP seem immune to these negative stories?

Well, one answer is that all parties have their fair share of rotten apples. Just look at the last fortnight and the revelations about former Lib Dem fixer Lord Rennard and Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock.

Both were high profile, had been at the centre of Lib Dem politics for years and complaints about them had been sent to Nick Clegg’s office. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the dithering by the Deputy PM it would have been reasonable to expect a drop in Lib Dem support, but there has been none.

Another and far more plausible answer is that those choosing to vote UKIP aren’t bothered about all the personalities, MEPs, councillors and party officials. Surveys have shown that most people can only name a handful of MPs or MEPs.

To illustrate the point, when Ed Miliband was first elected Labour leader, had been in the Cabinet and stood every chance of being the next Prime Minister, plucky BBC journalist Alex Forsyth took to the streets of Southampton armed with his photo and asked “Who is this man?”, more than half were unable to answer, with some offering his brother’s name.

So why does CCHQ and others think it should be any different for UKIP?

The simple fact is it is not.

After the affable, non-PC, smoking, drinking, shoot from the hip Nigel Farage, I would be surprised if most people could name three other prominent UKIP members.

And trying to expose Mr Farage as different is completely counterproductive, because those defecting to UKIP love this unconventional party leader. They are fed up with canned politicians, tired of the political leaderships of each Party drawn from the same tiny group of professional politicians, and being forced to choose between Mr Bland and Mr Blander.

And in the absence of big policy issues, like those of the 1970s and 80s, they long for authenticity, politicians who don’t play by the usual rules of game. People like Boris, Jacob Rees-Mogg, (dubbed the honourable member for the 18th Century), Red Ken and yes Nige.

And voting for Nigel Farage is a way of sticking two fingers up to the political establishment. It is his authenticity that is boosting the UKIP vote and why it would be a huge mistake for his party’s apparatchiks to follow the other parties and try and eradicate the quirkiness of either their leader or his followers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that UKIP must remain an operation run like Dads Army. If they are serious about making electoral gains, they need a professional campaigning operation, but getting rid of all the colourful characters, the cranks and the loons runs the risk of making UKIP almost indistinguishable from the other parties – Just another PC party without values that is willing to compromise on everything. That would be a huge mistake.

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Alistair Thompson

Managing Director at Media Intelligence Partners
Alistair joined MIP in 2007 having previously worked as a journalist. He is a senior Conservative member on Portsmouth City Council and former parliamentary candidate.

One Comment

  1. i agree with the premise but as you say the media are not treating UKIP in the same way as the main parties, when you have the BBC and national newspapers going out of their way to make headlines of just parish councillors who may have said something un-pc then clearly its not a level playing field, UKIP have few friends amongst the left leaning BBC and the tory press, so when they point out similar misdemeanours by councillors from the other parties it wont get reported, you can see a pattern that has been laid out by the Aussie spinner at CCHQ and which labour have now joined to feed stories to their friends in the media, it will be interesting to see if its successful

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