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Nigel Farage is still King Ukip - but Paul Nuttall is learning fast

The new Ukip leader found his audience when he promised "Brexit means exit". 

It’s been a tricky week for Ukip, but you wouldn’t guess from the way Nigel Farage came to the stage at the party's spring conference. 

With the Game Of Thrones theme booming across the hall in Bolton’s Macron Stadium, the former leader strutted down the aisle buffeted by security detail and photographers, stopping to warmly shake hands and beaming all round.

It turned out that the grand old man of Ukip has no need for the leadership title which Paul Nuttall now wears - to his fanbase, he was already the star. 

But it seems like there may be room for both men at the top. The reception for each scaled dizzying heights of excitement in a hall pumped up on post-Brexit fervour.

First out was would-be UK Ambassador Farage, his ruddy cheeks aglow with the praise of US President Donald Trump.

Introduced by party chairman Paul Oakden as “a man who has changed and continues to change the course of history", the larger-than-life character of the Brexiteer-in-chief has only grown bigger in the last seven months.

“It’s remarkable to think that 2016 is one of those years that children will read about in history books in 100 or 200 years’ time," he declared. “They will read that 2016 was a year of political revolution. And it was all started by Ukip.”

Farage also clearly relishes the part that he has played, by his own declaration, in the election of Trump. In his speech, he touched on his own special relationship with the new Commander-in-Chief.

“People like myself or Trump have been held up to hold the most outrageous political views,” he said. He cited Chatham House figures suggesting more than 50 per cent of the population in eight European countries said they wanted a “total end to all immigration from predominantly Muslim countries”.

“Far from leading public opinion, we now find ourselves firmly on the left of public opinion," he declared. Karl Marx no doubt turned in his grave. 

Next up was present Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, who stormed onto the stage to the Lightning Seeds’ Marvellous, his face shining in the flashing lights of masses of press photographers.

Where Farage’s speech featured his own place in the sweeping political changes, Nuttall zeroed in more closely on manifesto affairs. He demanded that the government repeal the 1972 European Communities Act.

“We have nothing to fear, Project Fear has failed," he claimed. "Manufacturing is up, unemployment is down, we are the fastest growing economy in the G7.”

Nuttall also elaborated on a plan to slash Vat on everything from domestic energy bills to hot takeaway food "so we can return to the days when things were cheap as chips".

Where Farage and Nuttall had the same message, it was for Labour - Ukip is coming for you. 

“Ukip will eventually replace the Labour party as the voice of the patriotic people of Britain - starting on February 23,” Nuttall declared, referencing the Stoke by-election in which he is standing. Both men tried to present it as being in the bag.

He did offer an apology for erroneous information which somehow ended up on his website suggesting he had lost close friends at Hillsborough (he hasn't), but also claimed there was a smear campaign against him. 

Still, for all the discussion of policies and personality, the new leader clearly understands what the Ukip party members' catnip is. 

"We must hold the government’s feet to the fire and ensure that Brexit means exit," he said. The last lines of his speech could easily have been transposed from Farage, who has been chanting the same refrain for decades. 

“We want our country back and we’re going to get it,” Nuttall roared, and applause in the hall rose again.

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.