Friday 22 May 2015 7:13 am

General Election 2015: Has Nigel Farage damaged “brand Ukip”?

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Nigel Farage was one of the founding members and leader of Ukip in 2006, but it wasn’t until he returned as leader in 2010 that he began to inject a modicum of acceptability into the party. 
Prior to that Ukip was so right-wing that it was considered by many to be a party of racists and fascists. 
From 2010 Farage worked incredibly hard to shift the perception of the party away from racism towards British national pride, regardless of your origins. The party became (in theory) about protecting what it means to be British, choosing who has the right to enter the country rather than allowing the floodgates to remain open.
Irrespective of your political leanings, it can't be argued that Farage had a major impact on “brand Ukip”. 
Farage presented himself as a straight-talking man of the people, someone who drinks beer in an actual pub in a natural way, not awkwardly for the benefit of the media.
Farage is the manifestation of the policies and perspective of Ukip: seemingly down to earth, honest and frank, telling people what's real, not what is sugar-coated for electorate consumption. 
Farage made it seem like you might actually bump into him in the pub and talk to him about policy, whereas you’d have to go to some secret Mayfair club to bump into Cameron or Miliband – and even then you wouldn’t be let in unless you went to Eton.
The manifestation of the brand in the figurehead is frequently found in strong leaders of businesses. We have long associated the youthful, irreverent, champion of customer service that Virgin promises in the escapades of Sir Richard Branson, the geeky intellectual Microsoft in Bill Gates, or Apple in the black turtle-necked innovator Steve Jobs.
The big question is, how can a brand that is so reliant on the figurehead’s persona expand beyond that persona? Will Ukip only survive with Farage at the helm or is it time for a new face? 
The examples of Virgin, Microsoft and Apple give us an idea of possible outcomes. Many thought that Apple would nose-dive without Jobs and though Tim Cook is does not have the charisma of his predecessor, Apple thrives. Microsoft, under Satya Nadella, does too. Virgin's Josh Bayliss has also proved his worth. 
The critical thing is that these founders, the figureheads imbued their brands and businesses with their vision, culture and values. Done well, this means the brand successfully lives on well beyond the person.
As for Ukip, there’s no doubt that Farage has damaged the ‘straight talking’, trust basis of the brand by u-turning on his resignation, but I suspect his staunch followers will forgive him. 
Farage has more to do, however. It will be a few more years before his persona is embedded into the Ukip brand enough for him to move on. That said, I’d be surprised if he was the right figurehead to lead them into the next election. For that, Ukip needs Farage 2.0.

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