How did we get here? Well, it’s taken UKIP the best part of six months but finally the party has a leader who seems to want the job and has received a majority of the popular vote.
Paul Nuttall has been a member of UKIP for quite some time and during his campaign he made much of the positions that he held to promote his credentials for leadership. He spent his time travelling around the country helping candidates and the party, and supporting various events. He was frequently seen in Wales, particularly in the North, promoting UKIP by attending events such as the opening of the Blair Smillie/Nathan Gill joint shop in Alyn and Deeside in the GE 2015 campaign.
The fateful events of the 8th to the 12th May 2015 sealed the division between Farage and Nuttall forever. On that Friday afternoon 8th May when Farage had received the decision of the South Thanet electorate and in the wake of his ill-advised resignation, the appointment of Suzanne Evans as interim party leader blew apart the peace that existed in the party.
The meeting of the NEC on the Monday had to deal first with demands for Evans to be confirmed as leader. This was scuppered by Nuttall’s stance who saw anyone ‘appointed’ as getting a head start on any other candidates for the leadership; the NEC then just confirmed the re-appointment of Farage.
So how have we managed to arrive here? It was clear from late 2015 that Farage was finally going but at no stage had a clear successor emerged. The first election proved that with the field of candidates at one point numbering 15, although this reduced to only four on the ballot paper. There were many calls for Paul Nuttall to stand as a candidate and at this stage Steven Woolfe was still in the frame. Why didn’t Nuttall stand? The press recorded personal reasons.
The second time round the pressure on him to stand was much greater and in the end he declared he would run. From the outset he kept his campaign very limited to a flow of the names of the great and good queuing up to express their open support for him. Notable defectors from the Farage camp included Peter Whittle from the London Assembly, Neil Hamilton from the Welsh Assembly, Tim Aker and David Coburn who, together with Peter Whittle, had formed part of the high profile Woolfe campaign. Many of the MEPs joined in with Jonathan Agnew who had called on Nuttall to run the first time. Many of those who have been against Farage either overtly or covertly came out in support of Nuttall.
Was there any doubt in the result? Not really, not because the party had no real appetite for Nuttall, rather they voted for some semblance of order. Is Nuttall a unity candidate? Not in the true sense of the term. His appointments and comments to date have drawn in the strands of the party who opposed Nigel Farage such as Evans and O’Flynn. It has also brought on board party loyalists who seek to support whoever is party leader, which in turn is a very Conservative, mainstream party political action.
It has also brought in Gerard Batten, who for many years was a lone-figure on the outside of the party but who is now very much on the Nuttall side. Will he go further into the UKIP divisions? We will have to see. No decision has yet been announced over Neil Hamilton and David Coburn. As of the end of last month there has been no mention of close Farage supporters such as Ray Finch, but Jill Seymour is back on board. To date all the main figures who backed Nuttall have been found places in the team. These people will be the subject of a second article once the dust has settled.
So what do we know of Paul Nuttall? He was a lecturer before becoming a UKIP MEP and has an interest and expertise in Edwardian politics.
He declares himself to be a practicing Roman Catholic and is a strong supporter of the death penalty and a huge reduction in the time limit on abortion. He favours an English parliament, at one stage calling for the expulsion of Scottish MPs from Westminster. This policy puts him at odds with the current Scottish UKIP group. He has held a number of party positions including deputy leader and chairman, and sits currently as an MEP representing the North West for UKIP. His claim to fame in this post is to have one of the worst attendance records of all MEPs in Brussels.
I first met Nuttall at a public meeting in Warrington when he persuaded me to join UKIP, but what I do know about Paul is that he’s a good tub-thumper and he believes in the UKIP core message of leaving the European Union. His rhetoric claims to say he knows how to appeal to Labour working class voters. We have yet to see if this is true.
He has a style of speaking which has yet to really settle into what would be called his own. Much of his delivery is styled on that of Nigel Farage or could even be said he uses a delivery style learned from a book on public speaking, but whatever it is it appeals to a UKIP party audience. Will that style transfer to the British public as a whole again? That is not yet tested. He handles combative interviews well and is also happy at home sat on the sofas of the nations. The million dollar question that UKIP will have to answer in the next weeks is can they as a party sell Nuttall, an avowed Scouser, to a country which has never been faced with a senior politician with a Liverpudlian persona.