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Agencies 4 Growth Festival Logo

The Ukip Farage Spring anti-media strategy paid off - but how long can it work?

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

The failure of mainstream politicians, and the media circus that surrounds them, to talk and write about Ukip without being patronising or carrying an involuntary sneer has been manna from heaven for the new fourth party.

Ukip leader: Nigel Farage

The mainly Westminster-based politerati have never take Nigel Farage seriously even after his triumph in last week's elections when virtually every newspaper carried a picture of him either appearing to be gurning or in ecstasy after his first pint of the day.

The success of Ukip is reminiscent of a television advert for injury lawyers in which an unseen giant, a booming Brian Blessed, is confronted by the little man with a weedy voice; in this case Ukip wounds the giant helped by a large section of the British public.

And the Farage Spring happened without a slick and successful media strategy. If Ukip did have a media blueprint it was inept and risible. Almost every stunt they pulled became a shambles and the Westminster media and the main parties looked down their noses and giggled and by laughing at Ukip they were laughing at the public. Treating voters as an object of scorn is a recipe for disaster.

Ukip scored by keeping it simple. There was no need for days of strategy consultation. They just stayed on message: foreigners are the cause of unemployment and crime and the lack of housing and are leaching on benefits; the EU is allowing people from 27 nations to come to the UK without any border checks and the European courts are forcing us to bow to a human rights act that allows foreign criminals to stay in Britain and for their relatives to be supported by the state.

But where Ukip got it right was to plant these statements in the fertile ground of the economic argument. They, like Labour, recognised that outside London voters were still feeling the pain of the recession but unlike Miliband and Balls, managed to get across their version of why this was happening and what they would do to make it better and it struck home.

Nigel Farage is unashamedly populist and often described as the man in the saloon bar with his simplistic view of the world. Well, a lot of people go to pubs, or golf clubs and he is very good at articulating their fears and perceptions.

Take the disaster of the radio interview in which Ukip's communications director stepped in when the interviewer had Farage reeling. For any other party leader it would have been curtains but what came out stronger than the accusations of racism was the phrase "would you like a Romanian moving in next door" and a large part of the voters said no.

It doesn't matter that most people in this country have never met a Romanian, Farage was cleverly dealing with the perception. For Romanian, read any foreigner. Ukip knows that when people are feeling economic pain they need someone to blame and the EU is a very handy fall guy.

Like the Liberal Democrats before the coalition government, Farage can make promises knowing quite well he will never be in a position to deliver them. For the Lib Dems, the chickens came home to roost once they signed up with the Tories and broke those pledges.

Ukip is still in the handy position of having a large number of voters and no power. They have no councils and are not in a dominant position in the European Parliament and this bodes well for the by-election in Newark, a rural area where during the summer months there are a large number of migrant agricultural workers, Romanian or otherwise.

Farage is on a roll. It remains to be seen if his anti-media strategy will continue to work.

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