The remarkable transformation of Nigel Farage from the punchline to a smart-arsed political joke to potentially a Parliamentary force looks like being the defining narrative of the upcoming general election.
However unpalatable you (and, for the record, I) find the UK Independence Party leader’s views, his influence stretches beyond the loony fringes of the casual racists of the golf clubhouse and into a wider, apparently disenfranchised white working class. You can see why both Labour and the Conservatives find him a threat.
I wasn’t at last week’s Nabs event where, by all accounts, Farage more than held his own against an audience that would not be naturally predisposed to his political outlook, successfully batting questions away. Speaking after the dinner, Sir Martin Sorrell said he would be "uncomfortable" if Farage approached him to work on Ukip’s election campaign because of his stance on immigration.
Sorrell, a second-generation immigrant knight of the realm, is of course perfectly entitled to his view and it’s one that’s shared by many others – you won’t find many shops begging to work on the Ukip account.
But there’s no denying that a degree of moral relativism is at play – like most agencies, Sorrell’s WPP works with many clients that not everyone would approve of.
You won't find many shops begging to work on the Ukip account. But a degree of moral relativism is at play
Ogilvy & Mather, most famously, handles British American Tobacco and JWT looks after Shell, while WPP as a whole is responsible for News UK – a company whose reputation has been dragged through the courts because of endemic phone-hacking. Y&R’s work for the Argentinian government, meanwhile, caused considerable offence to Falklands veterans – a diplomatic incident that threatened to overshadow the London 2012 Olympic Games and drew the ire of Sorrell himself.
Lord Bell defended himself when pressed on some of the more controversial members of his client list (to many, it looked more like a rogues’ gallery), saying that he was not a priest but a businessman and that morality was for others to decide. It’s certainly a fair argument, but it’s unlikely that most would take such a cavalier attitude.
While Ukip has been in the ascendancy, the reputation of the wider political class has rarely been lower. After years of scandals, the Westminster parties have a reputation that appears to be at an all-time nadir.
Less than seven months away from the general election, which agencies will handle which accounts has yet to be decided – it’s tempting to think that this is because they are all as potentially toxic as Ukip.
What a state of affairs for democracy that the opportunity to play a role in deciding the fate of the country appears to be such an unattractive prospect for agencies.