Nigel Farage likes to argue he’s not a normal politician. He says what he thinks and what other people think too. He certainly didn’t do what other politicians are trying to do ahead of the European elections, which is expectation management. Instead, he set the bar pretty darn high for Ukip, telling his party’s spring conference in Torquay that ‘we can cause an earthquake on May 22nd by winning the European elections’, adding ‘if we top those polls, it will then give us the momentum to drive us forward to the general election a year after that’. He has set Ukip a big challenge there because if the party doesn’t come first, then regardless of how well the Tories do, they can deflect the attention onto Ukip. He then set himself an even bigger challenge by saying he’d resign if Ukip failed to get an MP elected in 2015.
The Ukip leader’s speech was one of his more impressive offerings after a slightly disappointing performance at the party’s autumn conference, although according to the Guardian’s Andy Sparrow, the press conference Farage gave this afternoon was a little testy.
His section on Europe showed how difficult it is for David Cameron to try to make a nuanced case for staying in a reformed EU. He described European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding as his ‘pin-up’, and when someone in the audience booed the mention of Reding, he exclaimed:
‘Don’t boo her! She’s marvellous! Look, she’s a godsend sir, what are you talking about?’
The Ukip leader has had to adjust his message after the ‘deluge’ of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants failed to be quite as dramatic as some of his predictions suggested (although he and Paul Nuttall still expect the numbers to increase from April). But fortunately yesterday’s migration statistics were another godsend. He told the conference that ‘it isn’t directly Romania and Bulgaria that I’m necessarily concerned about. What I’m really concerned about is the fact in the eurozone, in the Mediterranean there is no sign or prospect of any significant recovery at all.’
He was also very optimistic about the party’s increased professionalism and the number of women who are rising stars in Ukip, too. But there are still signs that Ukip isn’t fully grown up: accidentally adopting a slogan once used by the BNP, for instance, and trying to chuck journalists out of certain fringes. And Farage also grew very grumpy when grilled on the role that Neil Hamilton will be playing in the Ukip campaign. But he clearly thinks that it’s safe to be clear he’s going for gold in May, rather than play down Ukip’s chances in the hope of surprising everyone.