By Nicolle Laurie, Consultant, London
Nigel Farage, or the “pound-shop Enoch Powell” according to Russell Brand, has sprinted out of the start gate and into the limelight since becoming UKIP party leader in 2010. He has had quite a political career thus far; leaving the Conservative Party in 1992, becoming one of the founders of UKIP in 1993, leading UKIP on two previous occasions (resigning on both occasions), becoming an MEP, standing against Speaker John Bercow and being involved in a plane crash whilst campaigning on the day of the 2010 general election. All this whilst trying to build support for UKIP, winning the European elections last year and having two fairly prominent Conservative MPs defect to his party.
Much has been said on UKIP’s impact on the election (whether they could deny the Conservatives seats, TV debates and their support in Labour heartlands) and today Farage gave a speech on his priorities should they UKIP do well in May. He wants to see an immediate referendum on the EU and stated UKIP has ‘broken down the class divide’ with a genuine alternative to the main Westminster parties. With his first major speech in a while, he has drawn his lines in the sand for what should be a challenging election for him and the other leaders.
However, Farage faces a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ moment, in South Thanet where he is standing for election. The current Conservative MP is stepping down and the Tories have selected former UKIP Deputy Leader Craig MacKinlay as their candidate, a clever ploy considering MacKinlay will know all of UKIPs weak spots.
The most recent poll has MacKinlay leading, with Farage five points behind. Many say that if Farage loses in May he will have to relinquish his party’s leadership badge once more, as what message would it be sending if even the party leader can’t get elected? Unfortunately for him the knight in shining purple armour, should this situation occur, is tipped to be Douglas Carswell MP; the very man he wined and dined to lure him from the Conservative benches.
To say that Farage’s political career and the life of UKIP rests on him winning the South Thanet seat is not an exaggeration. Douglas Carswell is the obvious UKIP leader alternative, who over the past few months, when Farage seemed to think up policy on the spot, appears to be the only one to talk reason and sense in regards to his new party. However Farage is the face of UKIP, and represents the brand. Many supporters have walked away from Labour and the Conservatives straight to UKIP preferring a party and a leader who is more straight talking and down-to-earth. Whether many of those supporters would stay if Carswell, the moderate, deep thinker, became leader is tough to say. Furthermore, Farage is media friendly and loves the limelight; he has been able to raise UKIPs profile beyond what many would have thought possible.
The increase in UKIP support since 2010 has a lot to do with timing and presentation; the formation of the Coalition, the aftermath of the MPs expenses scandal and UKIPs unwavering anti-EU stance are some of the reasons that people are and were attracted to the party. In presentation terms, a normal chap with a pint is a stark contrast to the bland front benches of the Government and Opposition parties. However, if Nigel loses in May and resigns as party leader, where does that leave UKIP?