If the politician who gets the keys to 10 Downing Street were decided on media performance, Nigel Farage would be in there, already strolling up that staircase where illustrious and not-so-illustrious predecessors peer down from monochrome photographs, watching his every step.
Whatever you think of his politics – and today’s local election results indisputably show an increasing number are thinking about them enough to plant an “X” by his UKIP candidates’ names – when it comes to media interviews, he beats his rivals by a country mile (no Brussels “metrification” here…).
In the week when Radio 4’s World at One presenter Martha Kearney demolished Labour leader Ed Miliband, Farage deftly handled even the relentless John Humphrys on the Today programme on Tuesday and then played a blinder on the same programme today.
So what can the other party leaders learn from him? Well, Farage employs some clear techniques. He:
- uses down-to-earth language, such as “..are they voting UKIP just to stick two fingers up?”. He even points this out!: “We’re run by career politicians, who don’t actually connect or talk in the same language as we do.”…“We are big enough and ugly enough to make our own decisions in our own lives”.
- creates word pictures – perfect for radio, which is actually a very visual medium, e.g. “I remember the morning after Eastleigh [by-election] walking up the High Street, meeting person after person…”
- uses effective examples to prove his point – in today’s interview he refers to the Reform party in Canada, which he described as going from a modest by-election gain to general election success.
- provides a strong news story – the suggestion that what UKIP might really be about is forcing a change in the Conservative party. You can even hear Evan Davies suddenly sense he’s on to something here, as he describes a “reverse takeover of the Tory party”!
- is prepared to admit when the party gets things wrong. In response to Humphrys’ reference to a photo of a UKIP candidate doing a Nazi salute, Farage takes the sting out of the criticism by responding, that “it doesn’t look very pretty, I agree with you”.
- bridges brilliantly after acknowledging tricky questions, without ever sounding wrong-footed or caught out, to talk about what he wants to say. That only works with good preparation.
If the main parties want to stop Farage landing punches, they should stop their sleepwalking complacency and wake up to his media interview superiority.
Or else, to misquote Margaret Thatcher, who knew a thing or two about gaining power, Mr Farage might be telling them, “You kip if you want to, UKIP’s not for sleeping and boy, have we stirred the electorate.”