One of life’s great mysteries – along with why the remote goes missing just before your favourite programme – is why UKIP’s image seems unaffected by whatever allegation is levelled at the party or its leader, Nigel Farage.
Whether that allegation is racism, bigotry or the wearing of yellow trousers in public, Mr Farage and his colleagues seem to emerge smelling of the proverbial roses (and probably English ones at that).
This seems to baffle UKIP’s opponents and yet one reason is surely obvious: to put it in language Farage might use, when UKIP mess up, they ’fess up. And they do it quickly.
Take the recent scandal of Andre Lampitt’s tweets. How the main parties must have rubbed their hands with glee: here was a UKIP publicity stunt that had backfired spectacularly. But unlike so often with major ﬁgures in the bigger parties, Farage responded both promptly and with that rarest of political happenings, a fulsome, unequivocal apology.
By doing so, UKIP’s leader proved yet again that he’s an astute media operator, because he understands two things.
Firstly, a full apology takes the heat out of journalists’ aggressive questioning – they’re so used to politicians avoiding the apology, you can almost hear their jaws drop when one is uttered.
Secondly, he knows that the British people will forgive almost anything, so long as you “take it on the chin” and you apologise for it. We love a “Sorry!”, which partly explains why we all utter them, even when we’re not to blame.
Contrast that with what happened to former Culture Secretary, Maria Miller. In the end, despite claims otherwise, surely what did for her was not the expenses issue, but the way the public perceived her. After a lengthy investigation, she made arguably the limpest, shortest, most perfunctory apology possible in the House. It came across like one of those sorrys a child might make when they’ve been caught out – the ones where they cross their ﬁngers behind their backs, “so it doesn’t count, so there, ha!”
Was there contrition? Was there humility? Was there a readiness to do the right and honourable thing?
The media vox pops that followed suggested not. The public seemed to have caught a whiff of hubris. Fatal.
Whereas with Farage, you’re more likely to get a whiff of tobacco, beer and a “We have got this badly wrong”. Cue the sound of UKIP rising in the polls.
So the sooner rival politicians accept that nifty Nigel, the Johnny-come-lately of British politics, can teach them a thing or two about using the media to best effect, the more chance they’ll have of keeping him as the nation’s entertaining political warm-up act, instead of a rising star who threatens to steal the show.
And if they don’t, well, then they’ll be sorry…