Milkshake mayhem: exploring Farage’s ability to stay relevant.

Moments after launching his general election campaign, Nigel Farage has a Milkshake thrown over him in Clacton, Essex. This is not an outrightly shocking action to those aware of Farage’s reputation. In fact, in May 2019 he similarly had a banana milkshake thrown over him – although it was a Five Guys milkshake then, not McDonald’s. Even in 2014, when he was a leader of UKIP, an egg was thrown at him by a protester during a campaign visit in Nottingham. Farage is not unused to public disapproval.

But how, after multiple events of humiliation, is Farage able to confidently run for MP and become the leader of Reform UK?

Before we delve into what it means for social media to become more relevant in politics, we must understand the policies of Farage and his party. For example, Reform UK pledges to tackle the “difficult conversations” present in UK politics with the introduction of a ‘migrant tax’ (an increase to the national insurance rate on foreign employees) which is a topical issue that could cause a split among right wingers. Even during his speech in Clacton, Farage exclaims how they should “send him to Parliament to be a bloody nuisance.” We can only speculate whether this would be the case.

Following the new wave of relevance towards the ‘influencer’ and public personalities, we often look for big media personalities to generate shareable content and this is especially true in politics, as for the most part the public wants a likable figure to lead the country. But this begs the question, is it more important to be a valuable leader or a media ‘personality’ within politics?

UK politicians as a whole, have had their own share of embarrassing scandals and events, affecting them either positively or negatively within the political climate. One memorable example is the picture taken of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich in 2014, released front page of the sun magazine 48 hours before the 2015 election. This fueled the perception of him being incapable of doing basic tasks, therefore, not fit for leading the country. Additionally, Boris Johnson getting stuck on a zipline during the 2012 Olympics, which caused onlooker Rebecca Denton to say: “He seemed to take the buffoon and run with it.”, many would argue this perception continued during his time as Prime Minister.

Both examples relate to the debate around politicians controlling their public image and the extent that media demonisation has on politics, although it is unclear as to the extent of  whether Labour’s loss in the 2015 elections was due to Miliband’s struggle to eat a sandwich.

So, while Farage naysayers may have celebrated Tuesday’s milkshake incident, the reaction from his camp shows an impressive example of crisis control within PR, doctoring a level of sympathy for the politician. Even Richard Tice, Farage’s predecessor, claimed on social media: “The juvenile moron who threw a drink over Nigel has just gained us hundreds of thousands more votes”, revealing the importance of PR.

Farage himself was able to, arguably, ‘own’ the incident through a video on his X feed, holding a McDonald’s milkshake and exclaiming: “my milkshake brings all the people to the rally”. This PR spin positioning himself as the joker instead of simply the joke, may even result in him gaining votes within Clacton.

Overall, this emphasises the need for personal PR when is comes to managing media representations of public figures (especially politicians), the effectiveness of crisis control and the extent of influence the news has on public perception.

Is this just another incident of Politicians ‘pleading stupidity’ or was this a clever PR move of Farage being able to gain support? We will find out on July 4th.

Author: Robyn Chaisty