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17 February 2017updated 08 Sep 2021 8:31am

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". 

By Kirstie McCrum

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.

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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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