THE ELECTION OF Paul Nuttall as the new UKIP leader left many commentators feeling that the party would shift to an unrecoverable position on the right. One that, without the camaraderie and caricature style of Nigel Farage, could leave the party electorally insignificant.
Mr Nuttall’s stated views on capital punishment, abortion, same-sex marriage and the NHS can be conservatively described as controversial, while his no-nonsense opposition to PC politics has offered attractive opportunities for unfortunate quotes in the media. A member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the UK’s largest pro-life organisation, Nuttall once commented that “killers such as Ian Brady and Ian Huntley have their human rights; and did not face the death penalty for taking the lives of children. Who is to defend the unborn child faced with a death sentence?”
Similarly controversial views on public use of the burqa, climate change “propaganda”, same-sex marriage, abortion and capital punishment have left some questioning Nuttall’s ability to appeal to a broad range of voters. The moderation of Nuttall may, however, have already begun. Having once praised the Coalition for introducing what he described as a “whiff of privatisation” into the NHS, Nuttall recently confirmed that debates around privatisation “won’t be under my leadership at UKIP.”
Nuttall’s no-nonsense opposition to PC politics has offered attractive opportunities for unfortunate quotes in the media.
Away from the man at the top, what will this new chapter hold for the party itself? Having successfully campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, many wonder where UKIP will refocus its attention. The line repeated by the party’s senior figures to the press remains that they provide the only “accountable opposition” to Brexit negotiations, one which feeds Nuttall’s desire to “replace the Labour Party in the next five years”.
It is true that there is a massive opportunity for UKIP to reap the rewards of the victory of the ‘leave’ campaign in the referendum. The result emphasised the growing divide between the people of the old Labour heartlands in Wales, the Midlands and the north of England and the Labour Party, particularly on issues pertaining to wages and immigration. If UKIP can assert itself as the new representatives of those areas then greater electoral success is certainly possible.
There may, however, be more pressing and personal matters for UKIP to first attend to. A lack of unity and episodes of controversy have raised questions over the party’s long-term survival. Following an episode of literal in-fighting in Brussels in October between MEPs Mike Hookem and Steven Woolfe, which left Woolfe hospitalised, there were fears that the party was tearing itself apart. Woolfe resigned from the party, deeming it “ungovernable” and in a “death spiral”. The selection of Neil Hamilton as the leader of UKIP in the Welsh assembly has also attracted controversy. Hamilton sparked outrage by accusing assembly members Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams of becoming “political concubines in Carwyn [Jones]’s harem”.
Currently holding just one parliamentary seat, the question must be posed as to how this ‘people’s army’ will fare at the polls under new leadership. Certainly, Paul Nuttall will struggle to match the popular appeal and eccentricity of his predecessor, who, whatever many may think of his political views, had a remarkable knack of securing camera time for his party’s message. Despite this, if Nuttall can prove an effective unifier, avoid controversy, and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the EU referendum, he may lead his party to greater success in Westminster than Nigel Farage ever achieved.