Yesterday afternoon, at UKIP’s Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, Nigel Farage delivered his final speech as UKIP’s party leader with the characteristic pomp and charm we have become so accustomed to.
The European Member of Parliament for South-East England announced his resignation as leader of the party earlier this year, triggering a leadership contest from which Diane James has since emerged victorious. But the new leader was the side-show; Farage was the main event, even struggling to reach the podium for scores of TV cameras and news reporters. Not to mention his hundreds of passionate supporters, their faces etched with both pride and regret.
People began to see Farage as the master of straight-talking, honest politics
Farage built a home for UKIP in the village of British politics. And people got behind him. UKIP won more votes, increased their share and put forward more candidates at every successive General Election under Farage’s headship. In 2015, 1 in every 8 voters chose UKIP at the ballot box (as opposed to only 1 in every 45 the year before he became leader). Not to mention the 2014 European Parliament election victory. I could go on.
Even a mention of UKIP or the name of its outgoing leader sparks calls of racism, xenophobia and almost every other misdeed under the sun, which makes Farage’s success all the more astonishing. Love him or loathe him, people began to see Farage as the master of “straight-talking, honest politics” (to borrow a phrase from Jeremy Corbyn). Farage connected with the concerns – legitimate or otherwise – of the many, by questioning the unquestionable and saying the unsayable (although only now does he feel “freer and less constrained” and able to “really…speak his mind”).
Would the British ship be preparing to set sail from the European Union’s shores had it not been for Nigel Farage?
Beneath the grandeur of a charismatic leader was a stubborn rejection of the notion that things must remain the way they are, which served as a breath of fresh air for the disillusioned and disenfranchised voter. A splash of yellow and purple on a political canvas of tired reds and blues proved an enticing prospect for a sizable proportionate of the electorate.
Farage brought to life a dormant Eurosceptic sentiment. Whilst ‘Mr. Brexit’ might be at least a slight embellishment of the truth, the Farage factor was crucial in securing a vote to leave. UKIP’s popularity pressured David Cameron to address the prevalent divide of Europhiles and Eurosceptics within his own party by committing to a referendum on European Union membership, in the hope of settling the issue once and for all. Despite his exclusion from the official Vote Leave organisation, Farage’s appearances on the campaign trail were numerous and well attended. Would the British ship be preparing to set sail from the European Union’s shores had it not been for Nigel Farage?
Farage built UKIP…into an unignorable giant
Yes, they’ve had their fair share of shambolic episodes. And yes, their logo can be likened to a toddler’s first creation on Microsoft Paint. But Farage built UKIP – the so-called ‘People’s Army’ – into an unignorable giant. And not merely an unignorable giant, but one not easily tamed. Just ask former Prime Minister and now former MP, David Cameron.
For the ‘Kippers, today marks the end of an era. For nearly two decades, Farage locked horns with the ‘Brussels elite’ and dare I say it, overturned a metaphorical table or two in the European Parliament. But just for the avoidance of doubt, he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Honestly, he said so himself.