I don't imagine that anyone would dispute that UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party has had a mixed few days, as far as the British mainstream media is concerned. Never in living memory, has a political party found itself or its representatives, under such intense public scrutiny than UKIP has in the past few months, at least since May 2013 when it first started to make serious inroads into the traditional ground formerly only held by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
For potentially millions of utterly disillusioned British voters, UKIP appear to offer a potential alternative to the staid old politics of the London centric Westminster bubble, with its ranks of overpaid, un-elected policy advisors, commentators and civil servants, who between them haven't a clue as to the concerns of the everyday voter, but who are more than happy to impose their views, their opinions, their ideas on those same sixty-odd million voters, regardless of whether they want them or not.
It was precisely this monopoly of power that many people hoped UKIP would destroy, to tear down the "ivory towers" of Westminster; and in doing so returning power to the place it really belongs, with the people of Britain. And even though that objective may still be achievable, how much more difficult has it become though UKIP's own recent bout of public "self harming", what with the issues of 'gay floods', 'drivel manifestoes' and 'relaxation of the current gun laws'.
Now even though I don't profess to be any sort of expert on such things, it doesn't take a genius to recognise a few basic truths. Firstly, that Nigel Farage, despite being the most outstanding British political figures of the current crop, is not infallible and does make mistakes. He is human after all; and bearing in mind that he's just recently undergone a major operation following his earlier plane crash, it is understandable that he won't be on top form for quite a while. However, all that having been said, by hastily rushing back to the political front line as it were, there is a view that rather than helping the cause, he is in fact hindering it, not only through his own reduced personal effectiveness, but by underpinning his opponents claims that UKIP are fundamentally a one man band; and that without Farage the party couldn't exist. The danger is, were that cult-of-the-leader charge to become more widespread and prevalent, then what does that say about the party, its policies, its ideals; and would that still be an attractive political message to the potentially millions of UKIP voters out in the country?
Having recently watched parts of the BBC's Daily Politics Show, where Nigel Farage was expertly interrogated by the presenter Andrew Neil, it was clear that when questioned about the party's 2010 Manifesto commitments that UKIP's leader was excruciatingly unclear as to some of the policies, real or not; that he had assigned his name to; and as most of us know, the devil is often in the detail, which it ultimately proved to be. When asked about the party's policies regarding taxi driver's attire, liveried railway stock and the Trident nuclear system, Mr Farage visibly flapped in front of the camera, before excusing his lack of knowledge on the size of the manifesto document. Later describing the entire 2010 UKIP Manifesto as drivel, it having ostensibly been written by someone who had subsequently left the party to rejoin the Conservatives, his sweeping rejection of the document simply helped to raise the obvious questions, how would he know if he hadn't read the Manifesto, or was UKIP offering the British electorate complete drivel as far back as 2010. Either way, it wasn't Nigel Farage's finest hour and simply helped to strengthen the view that preparation is everything; and in politics even more so.
The truth of the matter regarding UKIP's 2010 Manifesto is this, it was a basic policy document, of the sort that any of the main political parties might have produced; and the concise version (that the author has subsequently read) contained nothing whatsoever to do with taxi drivers, railway liveries, but did promise to maintain the current Trident nuclear deterrent, which one would imagine is a perfectly reasonable policy. The blog post on this site, entitled "ADummy Draft Manifesto For Discussion" contains 40 separate policy points taken directly from the party's 2010 Manifesto and by no means would they ever be regarded as drivel, but instead as perfectly sensible election promises that might have come from any of the three mainstream parties.
But therein lies part of the party's ongoing problems, a lack of detailed knowledge about some of the plainly sensible ideas that UKIP should be presenting to the public at every single opportunity, let alone a program such as the Daily Politics show, which attracts a politically involved audience. Although Nigel Farage's "Hail fellow, well met" approach undoubtedly connects him to his fellow citizens at almost every level of society, there is still an underlying expectation that a potential Member of Parliament, never mind a mainstream political leader and therefore possibly a Prime Minister should have a sound working knowledge of important party policies, such as the economy, taxation, defence, education and health services. It simply isn't good enough to try and bluff your way through serious questions with the usual high street bonhomie, when people are looking for a serious political alternative, to the Labour and Conservative cabal, who have wrought so much damage on our country over the past few decades.
The cult of personality will only get a person so far; and relies completely on the person in question behaving impeccably at all times, which would prove to be an almost impossible strain, as most have found to their cost. Even though Nigel Farage is one of the most outstanding politicians that Britain has produced in recent years, even he is not immune to making the odd gaffe, especially when one considers the weight of expectation that has been placed on his shoulders by members of the UKIP community. His recent pronouncements over the previous party manifesto, over hunting with dogs, over gun ownership and the issue of Walter Mitty-type characters in the party have all been the cause of many column inches in both the regional and national press, garnering immense amounts of publicity for UKIP, some of it good, some of it bad. Although there is an old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity, in that, if the media are not talking about you then they're ignoring you, that is only true to a point.
The thing is, with highly divisive and emotive issues like hunting with dogs, gun ownership, religion, etc. is that they instinctively persuade people to take a view, on opposing sides of the argument, to the extent that political parties risk either attracting or alienating large segments of the electorate, especially if a party leader indicates a particular view on the subject. As it is, UKIP is now being defined by some parts of the electorate as pro-gun, as well as pro-hunting, ostensibly because of remarks made by Mr Farage, even though neither are specific party policy. Such misunderstandings are almost bound to happen when a situation is allowed to develop where the party leader becomes indistinguishable from the wider party itself, where a single person's viewpoint is thought to represent the opinions of the group, a perception that would not, could not find favour within a truly democratic society.
What has been particularly disappointing thus far, has been the almost total absence of other UKIP representatives in presenting the party's case for the forthcoming European elections. Quite whether this is because the mainstream media actively pursue, or specifically request Nigel Farage when it comes to covering the party's campaigns, isn't entirely clear, but whatever the case, the fact that Mr Farage and only Nigel Farage ever seems to appear in the media, simply helps to play into the preconceived idea that UKIP is a one-man show, which is likely to deter some voters from voting for the party. After all, it's not as if the party is short of media capable representatives, such as Paul Nuttall, Diane James, Roger Helmer, Amjad Bashir, Tim Congdon and others, who could just as represent the party generally, or on their areas of special interest. Perhaps if the party managers began to restrict access to Mr Farage, this in itself might encourage the media outlets to request other party spokesmen to offer an insight, thereby allowing Nigel Farage to be used for tactically in the campaign that lies ahead.
As a UKIP supporter I do fear for the party, in that it is allowing itself to fall into a trap of the media's own making. Being unprepared for television interviews is unforgivable at any time, but most especially when there is an expectation that the interviewer will seek to trip the UKIP spokesman up, with half-truths and downright lies. Barefaced honesty will only get you so far, but at some point there will be a public demand for actual proof of competency, something that can't be avoided, as it requires a level of professionalism to be shown. Along with millions of others I wish, I hope, I long for UKIP to create an earthquake in the same old staid British political scene, although at the same time I fear that a serious lack of planning and strategy by the party managers will result in UKIP snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and condemning us all to the same old political circus for the foreseeable future.