Nigel Farage is keen to promote himself as an ‘ordinary bloke’ with policies in line with ‘popular British opinion’. Surrounding his recent media spotlight, it appears that UKIP have gained an unprecedented amount of success; but just how serious are they?
Until recently the UK Independence Party were very much in the background of British politics. Most people were aware of them but never considered them to be a viable alternative to the three main parties. Then Nick Clegg threw down the gauntlet to Nigel Farage to debate membership of the European Union and everything changed. It is doubtful that Clegg’s aim was to legitimise UKIP as a serious party, but that was what he achieved with the two televised debates on the EU. YouGov polls showed that Farage was the victor in both of these debates which led to increased media attention for the controversial party leader and speculation about his chances in the forthcoming European elections.
Recently, Channel 4 screened a documentary entitled “Nigel Farage – Who Are You?” which gave viewers an insight into Farage’s life, both as a Member of European Parliament and a party leader. Much of this documentary focused on the idea that Farage is a man of the people, an image that UKIP are keen to promote. He was shown drinking beer in his local pub, conversing with the public and strolling around the Kent village which has been his life-long home. This former businessman would have us believe that unlike Clegg, Cameron and Miliband, he is one of us.
Unfortunately for Farage, in the wake of the Maria Miller expenses scandal, there were also revelations about his £60,000 allowance from the EU which he claims were spent on his rent-free office in Lyminster between 2009 and 2013. Some have called for his finances to be investigated, while many question the use of European money to fund an anti-EU campaign. The important thing to note however, is that the money MEPs receive from the EU is an allowance which is given so that each Member can do their job efficiently. This differs to the often exploited British expenses system in which MPs claim back money they have spent on second homes, travel, etc.
In addition, following his campaign for ‘British jobs’ to go to ‘British workers’, there has been outcry over the fact that he employs his German wife as his secretary. The media has portrayed this as an example of Farage having a lack of faith in British workers as he rejects the idea that anyone other than his wife could work the required hours. It has also been viewed as hypocritical as it seems to conflict with his own policies regarding labour movement within the EU. Farage also maintains that the grilling he has been receiving in the media lately is due to the leaders of the three main parties being threatened by UKIP’s growing popularity and wanting to discredit him and his party.
So, is Farage really a viable figure in British politics, or will the hype surrounding him die down as quickly as it started? The European elections on 22nd May will give an indication of the public support UKIP currently have but that could all change before the 2015 general election. Only time will tell if the British public have enough trust in Farage and are willing to support the anti-EU rhetoric of UKIP.