Ukip expected to break through in 2015 but this election looks like Nigel Farage's last hurrah
I have always had a sneaking regard for Nigel Farage. It takes courage to be a maverick and to say things that no other politician would dare say.
A few years ago I had dinner at Boisdale with Nigel and his key aide Gawain Towler. It was a fun evening. When I arrived Nigel was in the cigar bar entertaining all the other guests. Over dinner he was witty and charming and yet there was also a much more serious side to the man.
At heart Nigel Farage is an unreconstructed Thatcherite who has a nostalgia for a past that I am not sure every really existed. To an extent I am guilty of the same nostalgia. Yet he has the same ability as Thatcher and Tebbitt to talk to ordinary people in a way that is both powerful and persuasive about difficult issues that really matter.
The popular image of Nigel Farage drinking a pint of beer in a country pub is very powerful. It strikes a chord with many people across the country who feel alienated from modern politics. This is why the core UKIP vote love him so much. Yet the image actually does him a disservice. He is much better and smarter than that.
Farage once gave a fascinating newspaper interview in which he compared UKIP to the SDP. In what sense? He was very clear. The SDP forced the Labour Party to come to terms with reality. Tony Blair would never have become Leader of the Labour Party without the SDP. Farage sees UKIP having a similar impact on the Tory Party. Many would argue he has already had that impact!
In recent times it often seemed that UKIP had the potential to break the mould of British politics. After strong performances in the European and local elections and then two sensational by-election victories there was a real buzz about UKIP. The media started talking them up. I sense that too many UKIP activists actually believed that the 2015 election would be the breakthrough.
I am not sure that Nigel Farage ever really believed the hype. It is now clear that he has had serious back pain during the early part of the campaign. Yet I sense that he has also realised that election night might not only be a bad night for UKIP but it might also be his last hurrah. This explains that sadness that often seems to characterise his face. It is a pained wistfulness.
There is a very strong possibility that although UKIP will come second in many Labour seats particularly in the North of England they will only have one MP. This is why Nick Clegg's talk of a Tory/UKIP pact is so silly. If this happens it will be the end of Nigel Farage.
It takes great personal as well as political courage for an individual to take on the entire political establishment. The pressure on Farage as well as his family must be enormous. At times he has been magnificent. At others he has demeaned himself by being controversial simply to galvanise the core UKIP vote. Hence the opprobrium. Yet when Farage is on top form he is still one of the most impressive politicians in the body politic.
I sense we are observing the last days of Nigel Farage. He reminds me of that wonderful character Reggie Perrin. So perhaps on the morning of 8th May we will find his clothes on the beach at Ramsgate? If so I will miss him.
Nigel Farage is not everybody's cup of tea. Yet there will be a void when he has gone. He has changed the Tory Party and British politics in a way that is still perhaps not fully really realised. That will be his personal legacy.