Sunday 22 January 2017

Paul Nuttall in Stoke

A scene replaying itself night after night in drinking establishments across the land. A man, in late middle age, sat alone nursing a pint. He wears a creased suit and a defeated expression, and staring into the drink his mind races with what might have been. This was the London Road Ale House on Friday evening, and the gentleman concerned was Mick Harold, the chair of the local UKIP branch. When Tristram Hunt announced his resignation, Harold must surely have thought he was in with a shout of taking the seat. His party, he came second in 2015 after years of hard work and financial sacrifice. With a low turn out, with Jeremy Corbyn in the leader's office, with a government paralysed by indecision and dithering, and the media hype machine bigging up UKIP, there, right there, was his chance to hit the big time. And it was taken from him without so much as a thank you.

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.


Boffy said...

"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."

Alternatively, if Nuttall does win, and makes Stoke central the centre of UKIP operations in the UK, actually setting up proper offices and administration etc. it will mean that the seats of Stoke North and Stoke South, and Newcastle, and Staffordshire Moorlands are up for grabs too if current MP's stand down, and the same applies in relation to North Staffordshire seats in a future GE.

If I was NUttall, I would already have promised Harold a free run at one of those seats, with full UKIP backing for whenever such a contest arises! If I was harold, I would see waiting a couple of years as a price worth paying, if in the meantime Nuttall made winning those other seats a more realistic prospect.

We should not base our hopes and dreams on UKIP failing, or their past incompetence, and lack of activity in the chamber or dealing with community issues. Such populist and fascist groups have actually, in the past, been able to grow by taking on such activity. The same applies to PIRA and to Hizbollah, for example.

If labour wants to win, it has to win on its own merits not the demerits of others.

Anonymous said...

Nuttall could simply claim to have been a student in Stoke even if he barely stayed long enough to enrol before going elsewhere (there's nothing on his wikipedia page to indicate otherwise): a bit like saying 'I was at Oxbridge' (for Fresher's Week, before deciding to go to Keele instead).

asquith said...

Will he be attending the literary festival at Emma Bridgewater?

I'm sure he'll be attracting big investors to the city, fighting for our jobs & city institutions, far more so than Tristram ever did!

Hey, I'm just joining in the facile, unfounded optimism that's so common among Brexshitters these days :)

Unknown said...

Labour Leave poll puts UKIP 10% ahead of Labour in Stoke.
Wiseacres who claimed UKIP had lost its raison d'être were always guilty of wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

It isn't a "poll", it is pure fake news.

And you are just as disgraceful for repeating it.

Laura Marcus said...

@Boffy Staffordshire Moorlands vote for a UKIP MP!? Are you serious?

Even when Steve Povey, RIP, was alive and ran for UKIP they came a long way fourth. And he had a good strong personal vote. And lovely oatcakes. If he couldn't do it, no one else can.

This is now a safe Tory seat. Same as it was when David Knox held it.

Joost said...

"historically, like all right-populist and fascist outfits they do best among small business and middle class voters"

Historically, that's indeed where right-populist and fascist parties used to do best. But times have moved on - if not in the UK, at least in the rest of Europe.

Take the German AfD. In the European elections of 2014, it did best with "Arbeiter" - blue-collar workers - getting 9% of their vote. Later that year, in the state elections in Brandenburg and Thuringen, it was again the Arbeiter who were most likely to vote AfD - 19% resp. 16% of them did so. Last year, when the city state of Berlin had elections, you guessed it; the AfD's best professional group were blue-collar workers. It got 23% of them. In Berlin!

Or move on to Austria. Where things are much, much worse. In last year's close presidential election repeat run-off, Norbert Hofer ran for the populist/far-right FPÖ. He got just 34% of public employees, 40% of private white-collar workers, 49% of the self-employed ... and 85% of blue-collar workers (Arbeiter). Eighty-five percent!

Take the Netherlands, where Islam-hater Geert Wilder initially went with a hard-right economic agenda when he founded his Freedom Party (PVV), but soon figured out where his bread was buttered. Now he pairs his nationalist appeal to white identity with lefty-sounding rhetoric about defending health care, pensions etc, and appeals primarily to the working class. In the provincial elections of May 2015, his party did best with those with lower levels of education (21%) and lower than average incomes (14%), and worse among those with mid-level (13%) or higher levels (5%) of education and those with upper-middle (11%) or upper-level incomes (6%). In October that year, the same pollster found that Wilders was pulling a whopping 37% of lower-educated voters, versus 25% of middle-education voters and 14% higher-educated ones.

I don't have numbers for France at the ready, but from what I remember the same trends hold true for the Front National. Expanded its traditional focus on small-business and middle class voters a long time ago to successfully target blue-collar workers.

When it comes to West-European politics, the way the far right and the working class have found each other has frankly been the single scariest political development in my lifetime.

I have no idea about whether it holds true for some other countries with successful far-right parties, though, from Greece's Golden Dawn to the Sweden Democrats or the True Finns. In Hungary, Jobbik seems to do best with skilled workers in mid-sized towns - better than with unskilled workers or rural voters, and better than with upper middle class and Budapest voters - but the far right in former-communist Europe is generally a different beast than in Western Europe.