He’s quick-witted, a brilliant public speaker and has a sharp sense of humour. He seems to pop up at every opportunity – at the London 2012 Mayoral elections, laying into Price Charles and now piping up on the topic that shapes his party’s ethos – Europe. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the UK’s most elusive politician, Nigel Farage.
For those who are unfamiliar with Farage or his party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, I will give you a basic outline of their policies and standing in the UK. UKIP are positioned on the far right of the political spectrum, and the main ethos of the party are strong anti-immigration and for Britain to immediately withdraw from the European Union. However, the party cannot be dismissed simply as a right-wing fringe party, due to its odd support of libertarian policies like the legalisation of drugs and abolition of drink driving laws.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Farage so likeable. Perhaps it is his friendly manor, his seemingly completely honest interview style, or his habit of constantly criticising David Cameron. For whatever reason, Farage’s popularity continues to grow and he was recently named by MSN as the Politician of the Year.
A friend and schoolmate of mine, Simon Davidian, has had more contact with Nigel Farage than most twenty-year-old politics students. In 2010, Simon sent out a few emails to people associated with Farage, asking him to speak at his sixth form college. He received an unexpected reply from Nigel Farage himself, agreeing to visit the school. The event was a success and a short while later, Simon received a phone call from a UKIP representative, inviting him to shadow Nigel Farage for a day in Brussels.
I discussed UKIP’s popularity, particularly among young people, with Simon. As a Politics student at Royal Holloway University in Egham, and as someone who has liaised with Farage on several occasions, Simon was able to provide a great insight into the increasing popularity of UKIP, particularly among young people.
Simon explains “the youth are affiliating with him, and likewise his party, because they offer a radical alternative. UKIP’s vocal opposition to the European Union, coupled with their right-wing Libertarian policies, can often be seen to exist as a voice that legitimately scrutinizes executive accord. Within the current political climate, no party can safely say that they do this specifically well, but UKIP are battling to clench this claim with every chance that they get.”
Simon also drew my attention to UKIP’s impressive grip on social media; something that the Conservatives and Labour are still struggling to get to grips with. Farage’s own Twitter account (@Nigel_Farage) boasts over 57,000 followers. He posts controversial political comments, retweets those that he agrees with and debates with those who criticize him, thus stimulating interest in his political personality. UKIP have also mastered the skill of drawing in YouTube viewers, by posting videos of Farage’s most successful interviews, appearances on television and speeches to YouTube and Facebook.
The slightly concerning fact of the matter is that political activism on social networking websites is now integral to political campaigns. A paper by Weiwu Zhang, Thomas J. Johnson, Trent Seltzer and Shannon L. Bichard called“The Revolution Will Be Networked: The Influence of Social Networking Sites on Political Attitudes and Behavior” highlights exactly how influential social networking sites have become in shaping our political opinions. The paper shows that 40% of all social networking users have used Myspace and Facebook for political information, whilst 20% have used them to discover the political interests of their friends and 22% sought political campaign information from social networking sites. Furthermore, The importance of political influence in the social networking world was exemplified in the 2008 American presidential election. As “The Revolution Will Be Networked” argues, Obama had a far better grasp on social networking sites than McCain, and this greatly benefitted his presidential campaign. He used a Facebook virtual ticker that recorded the number of users voting Obama, which boasted 5 million supporters by the time polls closed.
Looking at David Cameron’s Twitter feed (David_Cameron) is frankly cringe worthy. Every tweet seems either a useless piece of information or a concise and well prepared political statement. Similarly, both Labour leader Ed Milliband (Ed_Milliband) and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (nick_clegg) mostly post dry political updates, or promote events they are attending. No other popular UK politician has the grasp on social networking that Farage does.
It remains to be seen whether Farage’s ruthless perseverance to win over the savvy youth’s vote will pay off. It is still unclear whether Farage will be allowed to take part in the 2015 election debate, something that David Cameron has repeatedly opposed. Personally, I think that the UK needs a charismatic leader such as Farage, and although I do not agree with some of his right-wing views such as opposition to gay marriage, I do see the appeal in his “down with the kids” approach.
By Claire Hubble (@HeyChubble)