One of my first assignments for Prospect took me to Portsmouth Guildhall for a rally led by a roaring Nigel Farage. I had no idea what was going on, beyond one overriding impression: what I was witnessing was definitely “news.”
Owen Bennett’s book, in which the former Daily Express reporter details two years spent alternately hounding and fraternising with the UK Independence Party and its leader, explains how I got that impression.
If you ever wondered why Farage’s “people’s army” get the column inches they do, this book will tell you. “Farage needed the press, and we needed Farage,” writes Bennett. The Ukip leader is portrayed as a corduroy-wearing, kipper-eating, endlessly quotable walking colour feature.
More enjoyable, though, are the encounters with Ukip’s bit players—from Winston McKenzie, who has joined four parties and stood in 10 elections in 11 years, to Alan Sked, the bitter, exiled party founder. Accounts of Ukip press officers howling in faded seaside towns, will raise an eyebrow of recognition among Bennett’s fellow political hacks.
Too much space is devoted to these colleagues in the parliamentary press corps. We could handle not hearing about Telegraph commentator Dan Hodges’s encyclopedic knowledge of Sex in the City.
Like Ukip itself, though, when Following Farage overcomes its preoccupation with banging on about the media it has a knack for drawing you in. Bennett quotes the journalist Alistair Cooke: “Only by the wildest freak is a reporter… present at a single accidental convulsion of history.” Over-egging it, maybe, but watching Bennett in search of such a convulsion is great fun.