Pausing only to disentangle himself from a parachute, the moment UKIP leader Paul Nuttall appeared at the North Staffs Hotel for Friday night's selection meeting, it was all over for anyone else's ambitions. And to make sure, the NEC were in the back pocket to overrule the branch's decision had it not gone the right way. After all, they couldn't well pulp all the 'Paul Nuttall for Stoke-on-Trent Central' leaflets his goons brought with them ready for Saturday morning leafleting.
Contrary to my useless prediction and warnings about the localist flavour of this by-election, they decided to go for the big name. In as much Nuttall can be regarded as an A-lister. That said, and to be fair to the purples their leader was in a sticky wicket. He won the party leadership on the promise of targeting Labour seats though, historically, like all right-populist and fascist outfits they do best among small business and middle class voters. Their mistake. Nuttall therefore would have looked pathetic and frit to not follow through the logic of his position, despite having no prior association with Stoke. However, the UKIP leader has mined his past for appropriate biographical links. Sandwiched betwixt playing professionally for Tranmere Rovers and being there at Hillsborough lies the claim, revealed on the West Midlands segment of The Sunday Politics, that he lived in Shelton a short time as a student. Yeah, in much the same way I "lived in Liverpool" during Labour Party conference.
Nuttall's first leaflet goes on about what a great MP he would be. Stoke-on-Trent Central can look forward to "representation it has never had in Parliament before". Whatever you might think of Barnet Stross, Robert Cant, Mark Fisher, and Tristram Hunt they did turn up to the Commons and represent the constituency. Nuttall came 736th out of 756 in terms of attendance at the European Parliament in the 2009-14 session. As the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, I agree with Nuttall that our constituency can look forward to something novel. Still, doing the business on the green benches is only half of what goes on. Every MP is more than one woman or man, they are a small team of researchers and caseworkers. Here, Nuttall's record promises something exceptional too. Tristram, just like his Labour colleagues Ruth Smeeth in Stoke North and Rob Flello in Stoke South have offices in the constituency that deal with the problems their constituents bring them, and produce the work that makes for strong challenges to government policy. Nuttall's office operation is currently getting looked into by the European Parliament. Despite claiming office expenses and three staff to support his sporadic work in Brussels, no trace of his operation can be found beyond a PO Box. Can Stokies therefore look forward to their correspondence getting filed in the waste paper basket a la the luckless folks of the North West?
His leaflet goes on. He promises to prioritise housing for local people (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), understands the pressure of uncontrolled immigration (so out of control that only 96.3% of Stokies were born in the UK) and calls for the abolition of the bedroom tax. Sounds identical to the platform the BNP took to the electorate during the 2011 council elections. It didn't work then, and Labour is going to make sure this opportunist pitch doesn't work now.
If UKIP are so keen to imitate the BNP, I would ask the local branch to cast their minds back to the 2010 general election. They might recall Alby Walker, then leader of the group in the City Council chamber. He and his not-so-merry band of misfits worked hard and expected to snatch the seat from Labour off the back of Gordon Brown's popularity and media hype. Then Simon Darby, the BNP's deputy leader overruled local aspirations and imposed himself as the party's candidate. Walker resigned, coincidentally discovering that his party was racist along the way. He announced his own independent candidacy and came nowhere. Darby fell short by a country mile too, but still. Walker could look at himself in the mirror. He got steamrollered, but dusted himself down and fought back. Despite dwelling in the fascist gutter for the sake of a modest councillor's allowance, he salvaged some self-respect from the whole affair. I therefore urge that lonely man in the Ale House to think seriously. His dreams are shattered. He'll only ever visit Westminster on a Parliamentary tour. But he doesn't have to be one of the little people, he doesn't have to take a shafting from an uncaring career politician. He can win back his sense of agency with a display of the bulldog spirit. How about it then, Mick? You can't win, but the next pint doesn't have to taste so bitter.