Monday 28 November 2016

Paul Nuttall and Working Class Voters

Who's that knight on a white charger? Why, it's none other than Paul Nuttall, Eddie Hitler look-a-like and the latest leader of our purple friends in the United Kingdom Independence Party. His election by a landslide suggests a desire on the part of the party's much-reduced membership (of which, 15,500 out of 33k cast a ballot) to put the recent period of fracas and farce behind it. But more significantly, and unlike the hapless Diane James, Tory-in-exile Suzanne Evans, and homosexual donkey anecdote man, Nuttall is the man with a plan. To put the UKIP jigsaw together again (his words), they're going to go all out and concentrate on the northern working class Labour seats. It's a "big open goal" as far as he's concerned, and plenty of the media agree. Despite evidence of a declining brand, there are plenty only too happy to talk up this threat.

On paper, it seems like a winner. The Labour Party is stuffed full of metropolitan luvvies, and practically the entire media (and not a few Labour MPs) have gone out of its way to portray northerners as knuckle scraping racists hostile to such things. The election of Jeremy Corbyn is further grist to the UKIP mill, widening the chasm between the party and its core support. Or so the story goes. The problem for Nuttall's turn to the class and his excitable soi disant critics in liberal opinion is this is nothing at all new. This has been UKIP strategy since 1999, and they doubled down on it after hitting the big time. It has brought them some modest success, and has seen them take a council seat here and there from Labour. But their main accomplishment is to have displaced the other parties as the choice of non-Labour voting sections of the working class in safe Labour areas. This Parliament's Ogmore, Sheffield Brightside, and Oldham by-elections typify this trend. Labour hold on, if not handsomely increase its vote, and UKIP batter everyone else and come a distant second. The bulk of working class voters remain resistant to their garish colours and garish politics, as the ballot box demonstrates.

It follows on that if this was the case under Nigel Farage, why does anyone think Nuttall could do better? It took Farage almost 15 years of friendly press before he became a household name. Despite top billing on this evening's news, Nuttall is far cry from the same recognition. As far as the public at large are concerned, including those who give UKIP a punt, he's as well known to them as second rank shadow cabinet members. He's right up there with Tim Farron and Angus Robertson. Nuttall, as noted previously, is mostly competent in front of the cameras. I say mostly, as he has let his affection for Putin show, but the man is also a charisma-free zone. Farage's strength lay in his gaffer-like relatability for the UKIP target vote of middle aged men. What has Nuttall got? The patronising idiocy that he'd go down well with working class voters because he speaks with a Scouse accent is just that. Another thing worth noting, there are plenty of northern working folk for whom the accent grates too. Marry that to a personal image bound up with fascist bovver boys, and hey presto, UKIP have hit upon a formula no more attractive to working class people than the former Tory voters in the shires.

The further problem Nuttall faces is the resurgent Liberal Democrats. Not the biggest threat to UKIP, one would think. And yet they previously did well out of the collapsing LibDems. As previous owners of the none-of-the-above vote, that persistent brigade of anti-establishment politics voters switched their allegiance to the kippers while Clegg and friends made nice with the Tories. And now, well, by-elections up and down the country are finding that vote is dispersing back to the LibDems and, to a lesser extent, Labour. Politics is a funny old game, and Nuttall hasn't even recognised his party's bleed in this direction, let alone have a strategy for addressing it.

This is not a counsel for complacency, though. UKIP's electoral potential is limited, but as we know their indulgence by the media and politicians in our party and over on the government benches has had calamitous consequences. The way to beat them is not to cleave to their specious arguments and BNP-style scapegoating, but to take them on, street-by-street, and door-by-door. Our job is not to enable the enemies of working people by surrendering political ground to them, otherwise what's the bloody point?


David Timoney said...

The media blather has tended to focus on what this means for Labour, but the real significance is what it may mean for the Conservatives. There has always been a reactionary, northern working class vote, which has historically split across the Tories and far-right groups like the BNP.

UKIP has done well among this group in EU elections, but it hasn't tended to be either sufficiently coherent or distinctive in local and parliamentary elections. With the salience of Brexit, and Nuttall's determination to warn of the "stab in the back", I suspect UKIP will focus on this segment of the electorate and thus find itself contesting with the Tories more than Labour.

Traditional Labour voters who opted for leave (a minority, let us not forget) aren't necessarily going to buy into Nuttall's wider platform of free-market authoritarianism, while I can't see many Labour remainers thinking that the return of the death penalty is the most important issue facing society.

The irony is that a Nuttall-led UKIP could help Labour gain marginal seats in 2020 by detaching reactionary working class votes from the Tories, particularly if Brexit disappoints. It could even limit the revival of the LibDems, who always relied on a segment of reactionary voters in their "none of the above" pitch. It's not just (or even) Corbyn who should be "worried".

Speedy said...


The Tories are one point off the biggest lead they have had over Labour since 1992.

MikeB said...

It worries me that a narrow electoralist analysis woefully underestimates the threat that UKIP and their ilk pose. Even if they lose members and seats, they have been very successful in normalising racism and the crudest reactionary arguments.

This populism provides cover for libertarian economics, which, frankly, most people have little understanding of - the Thatcherite reduction of macroeconomics to that of a housewife managing her weekly budget is persuasive in the same way.

Trump's championing of Farage shows an acute awareness of this, and it is being echoed in the French Presidential campaign.

In a "post truth" era, the best antidote to Right populism is not intelligent argument or the comforts of psephology, it's organising to provide lived experiences that demonstrate common interest and the joys of cooperation.

Anonymous said...

The interplay with the Horlicks that Brexit is in danger of becoming could be interesting too. Where do the "sod you" voters, who may have gone UKIP or LibDem in past and possibly voted Leave, go when it looks like a mess? Do they blame it on the Tories and double down on the Kippery? Or do they decide they were lied to and go yellow? Or both?

But where the hell is Corbyn?

Ed said...

The answer to the last question is usually ‘giving a speech or an interview or issuing a press release that is ignored by the same journalists who demand to know “where the hell is Corbyn?”.’ Honestly, it was embarrassing the other day; the same people who carp about Labour’s lack of ‘message discipline’ were moaning because Labour reps were all saying exactly the same thing about Nutall’s demand for privatisation of the NHS. Repetitive, they complained. Sure: that’s exactly what message discipline means.