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Welcome To The Jungle: Farage’s Political Comeback Strategy Unveiled. 

Staff writer Anna Orwin Algeo speculates on the reasons behind Nigel Farage’s appearance on I’m a Celeb.

If politics were a show, it would certainly be binge-worthy. Familiar characters such as ‘Dodgy Dave’ have made a surprise return, ‘Cruella Braverman’ has been demoted to understudy and the spotlight is suddenly on everyone’s favourite villain. Please welcome Nigel Farage, ITV’s latest I’m A Celeb contestant, to your TV screens every night from now to the foreseeable. 

Having lingered in the wings since his seventh defeat at the polls in 2015, Farage’s appearance at the recent Conservative Party Conference has been far from an inconspicuous return to British politics. The rumour mill is turning, and questions are already being asked if a Conservative seat could be on the cards for Britain’s most controversial politician. Sunak’s refusal to rule out Farage’s return- labelling the party a ‘broad church’– and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s statement that if Farage became an MP “any leader of the party might be looking quite nervously behind his back”, only serve to amplify these speculations. 

However, although senior Tory MPs certainly aren’t ruling out a return to the party for Farage, the question remains: does the British public share this sentiment? Perhaps the answer lies not in Whitehall’s corridors but in the heart of the Australian outback.

Although there is no doubt that Farage is a fan of the limelight, he has always been staunch in his opposition to appearing on I’m A Celeb. It is no secret that ITV bosses have been chasing the ex-UKIP leader for years, so why now? Maybe he just had a gap in his diary, maybe it was the signing fee so large even Coutts would take note, or maybe it is a shrewd attempt at a political comeback.

Farage is by no means the first politician to dabble outside the parameters of his day job. By now the path of seasoned British politician to I’m A Celeb contestant is well trodden. Ant and Dec could rival Andrew Neil for the number of Conservative Party politicians interviewed: retired politicians, fired politicians, parents of politicians, the jungle has seen it all over the years. From incompetent Junior Health Minister turned seasoned reality TV professional Edwina Currie, to former Health Secretary Matt Hancock who was attempting to recover from the airing of a completely different show with his then aide, I’m A Celeb frequently showcases the very worst of the Conservative party.

I’m A Celeb is the perfect platform for a wannabe MP to kickstart their comeback. With an average viewership of seven million, Farage is reaching a primarily British audience far beyond his following on GB News. His rookie numbers on the ‘Home of Free Speech’ pale in comparison to the crowds that ITV draws in and the opportunity to connect with a wider demographic cannot be underestimated. In an age with several channels for political discourse, leveraging unconventional means might be the key to a successful return to Westminster.

Just as it would be a mistake to dismiss the prevalence of reality TV, the same remains true for its relevance. Election campaigns depend on the construction of narratives, and in this vein, they aren’t too dissimilar from reality TV shows. Participants compete and are steadily eliminated until there is one winner: drama, scandal, and alliances ensue. In essence, both are a popularity contest, and ever-increasing popularity at the polls is not solely based on political competency. The opportunity for Farage to create a new appealing narrative is essential when considering the role public perception plays in a successful political campaign. I’m A Celeb allows Farage to demonstrate qualities such as self-awareness, empathy, and integrity- qualities which many would assume he severely lacks after the Brexit referendum campaign. Trading in his suits for the infamous red shorts and boozy lunches for beans and rice, a sense of authenticity and vulnerability is fostered which might do the impossible: promote Farage to the British electorate. 

It’s also interesting to view this venture within the context of the recent success of populist leaders. Populist leaders often seek unconventional avenues to connect with the public and reality TV fits the bill, providing a platform that transcends the traditional lines of communication. Silvio Berlusconi, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump have all shown that having an air of the ‘celeb’ never hurts when one wants to reach the top. Trump famously starred on The Apprentice for fourteen seasons and there is research to suggest that his sway, particularly with swing voters, is down to the para-social bonds that his stint on TV fostered between him and the US electorate.

Farage’s participation in I’m A Celeb is a deliberate move to distance himself from the conventional political class presenting him as an alternative anti-establishment figure. It’s this anti-establishment narrative that populism thrives on. The opportunity for Farage to eschew political norms and present a distorted version of himself removed from the formalities of traditional politics is right out of the populist playbook. He can connect with a diverse range of campmates on a personal level thus reinforcing his persona as a man of the people, a defining feature of his political career. 

So, what will Farage do with this new-found political appeal? It is too early to say if it will equate to a successful return to front-line politics. All we know is as the jungle drama unfolds there is a greater prize at stake than simply winning a Bushtucker Trial.

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