The Tea Party movement: five highlights

We pick out the movement's controversies, following Sarah Palin's keynote speech to the first nation

Sarah Palin said last night that the US is "ready for another revolution" and condemned Barack Obama's budget as "immoral" in her keynote speech to the first national Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Tea Party movement is a grass-roots network of conservatives, a protest movement that sprang up in early 2009. But while they are united in their opposition to Obama's health-care programme, public spending and the growth of government, the 600 delegates who gathered at the Gaylord Hotel (I know . . .) are a rather disparate group of angry right-wingers.

So, as Palin calls for a revolution and taunts Obama ("How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?" -- a direct quotation), I thought it was about time to pick five highlights from the Tea Party movement's short history.

1. Palin's notes

The more observant among you might have noticed some scribbles on Sarah Palin's palm, in photos of her giving her speech, in which she mocked Obama's use of a teleprompter.

Oh, irony is a beautiful thing. It appears that Palin, while eschewing a teleprompter, has written herself some helpful notes on her hand.

Stefan Sirucek at the Huffington Post provides this blown-up image:

Tea Party Palin 

It's arguable how useful these notes will have been, but then, Palin works in mysterious ways. Ben Smith at Politico translates it thus:

It appears to be an outline:

Energy
Budget Tax Cuts
Lift American Spirits

Fiscal hawks will note that the difference between budget cuts and tax cuts is pretty much the core of the criticism of Republican economics.

2. Opening-night bigotry

This one's not so funny. The convention's opening speech by Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Denver, focused primarily on illegal immigration. Amid the standard bigotry about "Islamification" and the "cult of multiculturalism" was an even more worrying historical reference to racial segregation.

He said that Obama had been elected only because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country". This refers to the practice -- banned by the 1964 civil rights legislation -- of setting prohibitively difficult tests to prevent black people from getting the vote in segregated Southern states.

Tancredo received a standing ovation for his speech.

3. Money-making

There was controversy around the convention before it even began. It emerged at the end of last month that Palin's fee was in the region of $100,000, while tickets to the weekend were $550 a head.

If that doesn't seem like it's in keeping with the whole "grass-roots" thing, that's probably because it isn't -- the event was also sponsored by corporations, making the whole convention look like a nice little money-spinner.

Palin said she won't benefit from the fee, and told the adoring crowds last night that "This isn't about money", although that's easy to say when you've just been paid more than $1,000 a minute to make a speech.

4. Questionable placards

Tea Party rallies attract a broad range of reactionaries, and the movement has become notorious for the offensive signs displayed. The Huffington Post has photos of some choice highlights, including:

"Obama's plan: white slavery"

"The American taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's ovens"

"Barack Hussein Obama: the new face of Hitler"

5. Tea Party: the Movie

 

Everything about this documentary looks brilliant. What more can I say?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.