I listened on radio to the early stages of his opening address to his party’s annual conference. It was delivered in a convincing charismatic style. By that I mean one that appeals at an emotional level and which somehow minimizes rational evaluation of its implied assumptions.
Then I watched and listened to the later stage of the speech on BBC TV news. The theme had changed, and with it the impression it made on me. The naughty Nigel had crept out.
For a moment Nigel was nonplussed
The change occurred when he offered up some rather weak jokes about Jeremy Corbyn, and then targetted the leaders of the YES grouping in the forthcoming EU membership referendum. He began these with a mention of Richard Branson in only a mildly dismissive way.
Then he moved on to Tony Blair, this reference winning more reactions, jeers (presumably against Blair) and applause (presumably for Nigel). He was obviously building up to the third and most repulsive of the gang of three, none other than David Cameron.
He earned the desired increase of jeers and cheers which rather petered out, not helped by an off-colour remark about recent lurid publications about the undergraduate Cameron’s close encounter with a dead pig. For a moment Nigel was nonplussed at the ambiguous reaction to his joke.
His customarily confident smile was replaced with a rather guilty smirk. Or, at least that was how it came across to me. He quickly sensed he had struck a false note. But he is a consummate platform performer. “Well I liked it” he said, and switched back to being a selfless and visionary leader. Nevertheless, a little magic had somehow slipped away.
The shift in style during the speech may have been calculated. The early part of the presentation was rousing knockabout stuff. UKIP has done well, and I and the party have been sorely traduced. The second part was a skillful presentation of a cause that even transcends direct loyalty to UKIP, namely to work to save the country by putting all energy into winning the EU referendum vote. He identified the wider movement within which they would operate. This would be the umbrella movement, Leave.eu funded by the wealthy Aaron Banks, who is a former influential backer of UKIP.
Edit out the weak passage, and you have an impressive performance. Nigel had decided to speak without notes. This is a style that offers greater scope for empathic communication, and it mostly worked.