An evening with Nigel Farage

UKIP leader Nigel Farage Mr Farage's pitch is that the three main parties are indistinguishable

Nigel Farage makes Tories sweat.

So I thought I would spend an evening with the UKIP leader to find out why. We had a quick chat over a pint and then I watched him perform at a public meeting in West Sussex.

Here are a few conclusions:

Nigel Farage excites his party.

The meeting at the community hall in Watersfield near Pulborough was packed. The car park spilled over; there was traffic queuing down the road. Some 250 people chose to give up a bright evening in April to come to listen to a politician.

And inside the hall there was the kind of buzz that I have not seen for some time. It was standing room only. Unlike the rather staged public meetings involving the larger party leaders, people were engaged and excited. For some, it looked like fun. All this in leafy West Sussex.

Mr Farage intrigues voters.

In a show of hands, half the audience said they were not UKIP members. Many I spoke to said they were just curious. They wanted to come and see what the fuss was about. Many were mildly unhappy with the larger political parties they had previously voted for and were intrigued to give UKIP a look. There was a lot of grey hair in the audience but not uniformly so. There were some young people and a couple of parents had brought their kids along.

Mr Farage frustrates his opponents.

Some in the audience were Tories. Several were clearly riled by UKIP's success in stealing their voters. So why were they here? "You need to know your enemy," said one.

Mr Farage rides an anti-establishment wave with ease.

His pitch is that the three larger parties are virtually indistinguishable, led by a small group of people from the same political elite "who have never done a real day's work in their lives". He talks frequently of "the madness of the political classes".

And he skillfully ties his issues together. For example, he attacks wind farms initially by arguing that they do not generate energy efficiently. But he then talks about how subsidies for green energy represent a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. And one of those is a man called Sir Reginald Sheffield who, he claims, gets £1,000 a day for putting wind farms on his land. And he just happens to be Samantha Cameron's father. And so we are back to the establishment again.

Mr Farage has successfully broadened UKIP's appeal away from Europe.

The anti-European Union rhetoric is still there - the democratic deficit, the waste, the fraud - but now it segues into other issues, particularly immigration, and particularly immigration from Bulgaria and Romania. When he declares: "Now is the time to put the interests of our working men and women first", there was strong applause.

But he also wins support by attacking the planned HS2 high speed railway and county council waste and high salaries to their officials. Interestingly, he does not mention gay marriage but it does come up unprompted.

Mr Farage poses as the everyman politician, a ordinary man who fell into politics almost accidently.

He talks about his own life as a former financier - "I worked hard in the City for 20 years up until lunch time". He does self-deprecating better than most in a way that puts him on the side of his audience. "I am surprised to see so many fruitcakes, eccentrics, cranks and gadflies here tonight," he says.

Mr Farage has stamina.

For a man with a pretty damaged back following his plane crash in 2010, with a pretty unhealthy beer-and-fags lifestyle, he has extraordinary energy. His non-stop election tour of the country would test most politicians. But somehow, for now at least, he keeps going, even if he does need a cushion for his back.

Mr Farage has a network of unofficial party offices embedded in every community in the country.

They are called pubs. Every time I interview Mr Farage, there is always a pub close by. He uses them as unofficial offices and meeting places.

But more importantly he says: "every pub is a parliament". Pubs are where people talk and the spread the word. And for many, the word is UKIP. Food for thought perhaps for other parties obsessing about how best to use twitter and other forms of social media to get their message to the voters.


Mr Farage is an acquired taste for some.

Not everyone there was convinced by him and the earthy humour and bald slogans that poured from his mouth. When he joked about his German wife - "No one can tell me about the dangers of living in a German dominated household" - you could see some people wince.

His team sell a rather low-grade tea towel bearing the face of Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the EU council, with the slogan "genuine Belgian damp rag".

One audience member told me: "He has the gift of the gab but I could never trust him." Another said: "It is all smoke and mirrors." Some complained that there were not enough chances to ask him questions.

UKIP can still be unprofessional.

During his speech, a slide projector light was shining in his face throughout. After his rousing speech, the meeting was deflated by a long and dull speech by a Tory councillor who justified his recent defection to UKIP. Their slogan: "Stop open door EU immigration - you know it makes sense" is uncomfortably close to the Monster Raving Loony party's "Vote for insanity - you know it makes sense." This is still a growing party.

My conclusion:

Mr Farage's pitch is attractive to voters. "Stop moaning about the News at Ten and say you are going to do something about it," he says. "Give us a couple of bob. Put up a sign in your window. Bore your friends into submission."

And he is not without ambition. "I don't know what is going to happen in May, whether it will be a large dent of a huge explosion."

But he explicitly says it should be seen as a "dress rehearsal" for next year's European elections. "I believe we have the opportunity to win those elections across the entire UK and cause an earthquake across British politics. We are playing for very high stakes indeed. We are on the edge of a democratic revolution. Please help make it succeed."

For me the most lasting memory of my evening with UKIP is this one thought.

In past elections Nigel Farage asked voters to "lend us your vote", a tacit acknowledgement that voting UKIP was a temporary, protest vote. Now however he doesn't say that. He now says "give us your vote".

And if voters do that then UKIP could become the fourth party of British politics that they hope to become.

James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    77 - zdan. I can understand your perspective & you are not alone in this. But, I would suggest simply indicating "none of the above" when casting your vote. If enough did this, it would send a clear mssg. I believe that the current political elite are now anarchic,ie, "I'm alright Jack, pull the bloody ladder up" & the primary remit of politicians is to retain power at all costs. Be aware!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    75. omegaman
    Indeed, this is only my second vote and I'm debating whether to spoil or vote for the 'least worst' of the alternatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    The only thing voting UKIP could achieve is to let Labour in which results in a) no referendum on the EU b) a leftwing government, both the exact opposite of what UKIP voters say they want. Nothing to see in the UKIP shop. Let's move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The increase in UKIP's attractiveness to the electorate has been generated by a historically sustained refusal by Lib/Lab/Con to address valid concerns of the peoples of this once great country. The "big three" should accept responsibility for future voting patterns. To continue voting Labour, Tory, Labour, Tory is now passed its zenith. The electorate are now more politically aware & want change

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Hmmm, the more I read the manifesto the more contradictions seem to emerge. It talks about housing pressure whilst reducing the ability to build housing developments. Seems outraged that immigrant aren't all working, then is outraged at the effects on wages they may have. Building communities whilst getting rid services for certain groups. Reduce paperwork but set up health boards?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Agree JP, the condescension, the comparison with BNP, the 'One policy party' or ' No policy party' jibes, confirm the fears from the LibLabCon morass. It is amusing to watch how Labour and it's supporters underestimate the impact that UKIP will have on May 2nd. This from folks who think Milliband is a credible leader, who has produced nothing credible on policy since 2010.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    We know all we need to know about the self obsessed publicity merchant who is Nigel Farage from his ACTIONS.......

    & that is before you consider how he spent his "expenses" from Brussel when an MEP.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    A party for the unthinking grumpy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    UKIP are a right-wing populist party offering simplistic solutions to complex problems.
    I've read their manifesto and policy statements,
    the only policy missing is 8 hrs archery practice a week for all adult males, so we can stick it to the Frenc.
    They may 'win' the Euro-election but will ensure the Tories lose the General Election, nice one.
    Farage is the anglicised version of Fiasco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Typical BBC left wing spin from Landel, i was there and anyone wanting to ask questions had at leat 45 mins to write down Q's befor the start, the organisers went to great lengths to give everyone a chance. Amazing he noticed some grimacing, when the hall erupted in laughter at the joke on German households. BBC political correctness doesn't allow humour or individual style or thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    UKIP is BNP lite?
    Plenty of BNP comparisons from the party faithful especially the NewLiemore bods.

    Twitchy bum time eh boys seeing your memberships falling, need to denigrate the competition. How very predictable, the fact is if any of the big 3 actually made the simple connection that if you don't achieve mandate you tend to lose votes, would UKIP even be on the scene?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    '"No one can tell me about the dangers of living in a German dominated household" - you could see some people wince. '

    I can't think why. My husband is German and while I love him dearly,
    I live in Germany, in a German dominated household, and know exactly what Mr Farage means. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @48 - 'It's almost as though the three main parties have friends in the subsidy industry'.

    It's almost as though the three main parties are, despite their considerable differences, quite switched on to the need for renewables. BNP and UKIP have other characteristics in common apart from their disdain for the views of experts. Nonsensical policies and an inability to count are among these.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @64 - you are aware that UKIP is, more than most, backed by big business? And that they will 'run the country for the benefit of the people' by such liberal moves as repealing the Human Rights Act, scrapping incapacity benefit, franchising out hospitals and GP surgeries to private companies, scrapping the CPS and arming four new nuclear subs with US missiles. Who will all this benefit, exactly?...

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I hope that UKIP do well.

    The country needs a change as the three other parties don't seem to have the interests of the country as their primary concern. They just seem to want to further their careers.

    UKIP think that the country should be run for the benefit of the people. I don't see what's racist about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    EU is the best thing that ever happened to Farage. I don't think the BNP likes him very much, UKIP are stealing voters.
    I am sure Nick Griffin is planning something.

    The UKIP do make a good case for the European election.

    The bit where Farage said, "We're not racist!" convinced me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Laughable talking about elites, when the man has a private cozy with don't get much more elite.

    UKIP is BNP for the middle class pensioner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @41 cider ed
    Of course it's a pro ukip piece. The BBC realise if they support the division of the tory vote, labour will cruise to an election win. Very subtle bbc, but as always, on the side of the Labour Party

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    If we have a UKIP candidate where I live my wife and I will vote for him or her.Perhaps for a change we may yet have a government that works for the public and not their own kind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Democracy is the sea beast of revelation chapter 13. Think it through. It's all rebellion against authority, people/mob power that sets itself against everything noble in man and institutes endless human "RIGHTS" that are just plain lawless, designed to appeal to the common man/voter who is of no conscience. Little voter, you are a pawn in a game that has a terrible ending.


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