Nigel Farage shows a mug that was presented to him before signing a book of condolence for Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage tries to shed his Thatcherite skin

Ukip leader says "For half the country it benefited them, for the other half it didn't."

After Margaret Thatcher's death last year, Nigel Farage declared that he was the only politician "keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive". But as Ukip has achieved increasing success in working class Labour areas (where Thatcher is regarded as a villain), Farage has recognised the need to shift his rhetoric - and his policies. Asked on The Andrew Marr Show this morning if he was the leader of a "new Thatcherite party", he replied:

No, because that was of its time. Thatcherism was of its time, 40 years ago, to deal with a specific set of problems. For half the country it benefited them, for the other half it didn't.

He went on to confirm that Ukip had abandoned its previous policy of a flat tax of 31 per cent, which would have entailed a huge giveaway to the richest, and pledged to take anyone earning the minimum wage out of income tax.

We're going to rethink the tax thing [flat tax], I think that was badly explained, because people thought we were going to put tax up for the low-paid, no, the idea was to abolish National Insurance. What I can tell you for certain is that our biggest tax objective in the next manifesto will be no tax on the minimum wage. You've got to incentivise people to get off benefits and get back to work. That will obviously cost money.

Asked if the cost of tax cuts for the low-paid meant there would be no reductions for higher-earners, he said: "I think a top rate of tax, in this country, of around about 40 per cent is the one that will bring the most revenue into the Exchequer, I think through the 80s and 90s we saw that...Anything over 40 and you start to see people going overseas."

That of course would be a reduction from the current rate of 45 per cent, allowing Labour to attack Farage for promising a "millionaire's tax cut", but it still represents a shift left from Ukip's previous stance. Farage also wisely withdrew his previous suggestion that he would remove the ring-fence on NHS spending.

These stances will antagonise the party's libertarian wing but they are politically astute. Far from craving a laissez-faire approach, most of Ukip's supporters favour an expanded state and higher public spending. Polling by YouGov shows that 78 per cent support the nationalisation of the energy companies and 73 per cent back the renationalisation of the railways. Rather than a "code of conduct" for employers (as promised by Farage), 57 per cent simply want zero-hours contracts to be banned. Rather than a 40p top tax rate, the same number support the reintroduction of the 50p rate. 

Given Ukip's success in attracting working class supporters, it makes no sense for the party to alienate them by adopting a programme of turbo-Thatcherism. In this era of insecurity, there is a large market for a party that combines hostility towards the EU and immigration with a critical stance towards big business. As Farage and his allies know, it is this approach that has enabled the Front National to achieve such success in France.  

Wary of attacking Ukip over its stances on Europe and immigration, Labour has recently focused on campaigning against its free market policies (branding Farage "more Thatcherite than Thatcher"). But if the party's drift to the left continues, it will become much harder to do so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Italian PM Matteo Renzi resigns after referendum No vote

Europe's right-wing populists cheered the result. 

Italy's centrist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was forced to resign late on Sunday after he lost a referendum on constitutional change.

With most ballots counted, 60 per cent of Italians voted No to change, according to the BBC. The turn out was nearly 70 per cent. 

Voters were asked whether they backed a reform to Italy's complex political system, but right-wing populists have interpreted the referendum as a wider poll on the direction of the country.

Before the result, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage tweeted: "Hope the exit polls in Italy are right. This vote looks to me to be more about the Euro than constitutional change."

The leader of France's far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen, tweeted "bravo" to her Eurosceptic "friend" Matteo Salvini, a politician who campaigned for the No vote. She described the referendum result as a "thirst for liberty". 

In his resignation speech, Renzi told reporters he took responsibility for the outcome and added "good luck to us all". 

Since gaining office in 2014, Renzi has been a reformist politician. He introduced same-sex civil unions, made employment laws more flexible and abolished small taxes, and was known by some as "Europe's last Blairite".

However, his proposed constitutional reforms divided opinion even among liberals, because of the way they removed certain checks and balances and handed increased power to the government.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.