I saw a politician with a difference at the Union last week. Not for them the path of eschewing all controversy, spouting boring platitudes and incessant blandness which marks out many members of the political class today. Instead, the Union’s debating chamber regularly reverberated to the sound of laughter, during the hour long talk. This politician was Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP.
Now there is much to be critical about when it comes to Mr. Farage. The benefits of continued EU membership, which he largely glosses over, are real and substantial. Furthermore, it is patently absurd to compare the EU to Soviet Russia, as the UKIP leader is fond of doing; both may be unwieldy bureaucracies but there the comparison ends. However, while his arguments are flawed, Farage does provide a forceful dissenting voice against the EU in the political arena, and brings a level of scrutiny to the EU and its activities that is certainly welcome even if, like me, you support the European project.
As a speaker though amongst British politicians today, he is almost without equal. Never boring, the UKIP leader uses his sharp sense of humour and vivid rhetorical style, all gushing and gesticulating, to great effect. With frequent anecdotes (including a worrying amount about his love of wine), he comes across as much easier to relate to than some of his identikit colleagues in the political arena.
One can only speculate about what would happen if Farage was allowed to debate in the pre-general election leaders’ debate. The bounce in the opinion polls that Clegg enjoyed in the run up to the last election could be completely eclipsed if Farage had a strong showing. UKIP are, however, deeply dependent on Farage. Few people could name another UKIP politician. The way the party lost its way after he stood down as leader in 2009 clearly shows how much Nigel Farage is the motor that drives the UKIP brand.
Farage’s enormous skills as a speaker are also clearly limited electorally by his policies. His disappointing result of third in the 2010 Buckingham general election, where he was beaten by the speaker and an independent suggests that for all his rhetorical skills, UKIP’s anti-EU stance and blend of right wing politics and libertarianism is simply not very popular. Of course, rhetorical skills alone should not be the only requirement for a successful politician; indeed history shows us how dangerous that can be.
Politicians from the three main parties can, however, all learn something from Farage. Politics should not be about furthering your own career and covering your back at all costs, it should be about advancing causes you passionately believe in and trying to enthuse others to do the same. If that can be coupled with showmanship and humour, then some of the public apathy and cynicism that currently surrounds politics may well start to dissipate.