The return of Nigel Farage

Position yourself as the ‘outsider’. Know your audience. Say the ‘unsayable’, even when it’s not true. Any publicity is good publicity. The Farage playbook is well documented. Key to it is how he communicates, and how he goes about communicating.

I followed him, and saw it up close, for weeks in the 2015 general election campaign when he was trying to become the MP for Thanet. I’ve watched in the years since. Back then he lost, again. But he went on to win his far bigger battle.

There’s an openness about him. For journalists, and beyond them their readers, he is almost permanently available. It was something that happened last year that is maybe most revealing about the communicator and politician he is; he went on I’m a Celebrity… For him politics is entertainment. Or to be more specific, he does politics as entertainment. He’s a good story-weaver too. A crucial skill for the effective political communicator. Announcing his apparent change of heart on being a general election candidate this time round – again! – he was channeling Michael Corleone vibes. He explained that, despite trying to get out, he didn’t want to ‘let people down’.

The story telling isn’t always true though. Nigel Farage’s claim last week that there were ‘streets where no one speaks English’ in Oldham were refuted. He’s a message man, not really a details man. That’s another key part of his communicating. He’s trying to change the weather, not pitch to run a government department. For some the message is a repugnant one. The polls would suggest it’s a sizable majority of people. But it’s the minority that he connects with. A minority who have political value, because they are prone to switching sides come election time.

That’s the final element of his communicating. He understands what they’re worried about. He gets it. Or he certainly conveys a strong sense that he gets it. That’s powerful for a group of voters who think the other politicians don’t ‘hear’ them. In most instances he isn’t like them though. Most aren’t former metal traders from Kent who went to a prominent private school and later married a German. But he connects. Even his most fervent detractors admit that. But they also argue it’s an easier task to say the ‘unsayable’ when you’re on the edge and your pitch – heavy on the rhetoric – is about reverting.

There are lessons there for others seeking to persuade big audiences, be that customers, or employees. The obvious one is to connect. Relate. Understand. The other lesson is that, while there’s no doubting his skill – and effectiveness – pitching an amorphous idea about going back to a ‘better place’ is one thing. Convincing people to come with you, in a new direction, to embrace what you think is a necessary change, is likely a lot harder task. You’ll need a compelling vision, but it’s going to need details to back it up.

Photo credit: Reuters

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