Farage the storyteller

Posted: May 28, 2014 in cultural commentary
Tags: , , ,

Last week saw extreme conservatives do well in European elections. Parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) got the sort of success their leaders could only have dreamed of five years ago, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the political spectrum.

As with so much in life, the experience of reading and writing fiction can bring something to the discussion about these results.


Stories and politics

The thing about politicians like Nigel Farage, UKIP’s ubiquitously grinning upper-class leader, is that they tell powerful, simple stories. They present a conflict – immigrants threatening our way of life. They present an antagonist – Europe. They present a hero – themselves. There’s a sense of challenge – things are getting worse! – and of hope – Farage to the rescue!

This story might bear little relationship to reality, but that’s not the point. As the ballot box testifies, it’s a story that people find moving.

Losing the plot

Mainstream politicians are losing ground in large part because they don’t understand this. They talk about GDP growth and reform, but they don’t present a story. In fact it would be harder for them to present a convincing story – after all, they’re far from underdogs in this fight. But if they could find ways to tell better stories – and they have the staff and resources to find a way – then they might do better.

As Hugo Chavez showed, you don’t have to be in opposition to tell a powerful political story.

The power of stories

Humans tell stories to make sense of the world. Part of the power of stories is that they can convince others to see the world the way that you do. And until other parties find ways to tell better stories, to lead and shape public perceptions instead of being led round by their opponents, they will never make back their lost ground.


Picture by FutUndBeidl via Flickr creative commons.

  1. Sue Archer says:

    There’s been a lot of emphasis in my workplace lately around storytelling. To reinforce company values, people are sharing stories that illustrate those values. The reason why management is encouraging this? Because stories work. It’s been interesting watching this change in focus. Maybe the politicians could learn something from marketing!

    • Sounds like maybe marketing have learned something from the politicians! Abraham Lincoln was apparently another great storyteller, using anecdotes to win people round emotionally.

  2. handselkoan says:

    As you surely know, using a story for political likability has drawbacks. But, I can’t argue it makes for a stronger candidate. Some of the catchiest presidential slogans in the United States came from the backstory of the person running: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” perhaps being the most alliterative. Barack Obama had a helluva story for his first presidential campaign, but his public relations were so good not many noticed how different it was from his inauguration as an Illinois senator. The power of the story, indeed. :/

    • It is funny how those stories change with circumstances. The lawyer reinventing himself as a simple and folksy charmer (I’m looking at you Abraham Lincoln), the politician drinking ale in public and champagne at home. I didn’t know that Obama had told two radically different stories, but I’m not surprised.

      • handselkoan says:

        I wonder if a better attention span of the electorate would help, or would it be like “1984” where the truth is edited as necessary by media and people are forced to accept the sanctioned “truth” or be ostracized for saying it used to be something else?

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