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Expert Comment: Paul Nuttall’s Election as UKIP leader is dangerous for the Labour Party

dice Tuesday 29 November 2016

Dr Steve Corbett, Lecturer in Social Policy, reflects on the news of Paul Nuttall's election as leader of UKIP, and asks what impact this could have on the other political parties. 

In this era of increasingly powerful right wing populism and nationalism evidenced by Brexit, President-elect Trump in the US and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen as a serious contender for the French Presidency, the election of Paul Nuttall as UKIP leader is highly problematic for the Labour Party and may contribute to the continuation of the trends that drove Brexit. 

This was evidenced in Nuttall’s acceptance speech in which he derided the Labour Party’s perceived lack of patriotism and the leadership team’s focus on “Islington dinner party” concerns such as climate change, Palestine, and fair trade. For Nuttall this leaves a gulf between the concerns of the Labour Party and those of “working class communities” in rural towns and neglected cities in especially the North of England. Far from being a Conservative Party splinter group, Nuttall’s impact on UKIP has been to focus increasingly on hoovering up the 5m lost “Old Labour” votes during the Party’s 13 years in office.

In my research into the drivers behind Brexit the two strands of right wing populism, including socially conservative values such as capital punishment, disciplining children and an “ordered” society, and English nationalism (a combination of British exceptionalism and an “ethnic” conception of citizenship) are identified as themes that appealed very much to the generally older, whiter, lower paid and lower educated make-up of much of the Leave vote. By continuing along this path, the momentum may change UKIP from at heart a single issue Eurosceptic party to one focused on whipping up hatred and nationalism, as austerity continues to bite in the poorest and reasonably well-off communities.

That Nuttall is a right wing populist who supports the death penalty (reserved for paedophiles and murders in his view) and would vote in favour of this should the issue ever be put to a referendum appeals to a hardening of socially conservative values in many parts of the country, following the societal crises unleashed by successive British Governments’ response to the 2007/8 financial crisis by adopting austerity, and the self-produced crisis of Brexit. 

This is potentially disastrous for the Labour Party, should Nuttall be successful in his UKIP political project. As the era of triangulation is over, Labour needs to create an alternative progressive political project rooted in working class communities to capture the momentum on Brexit and outflank UKIP, while challenging and defeating racism and xenophobia.

Over to you, Jeremy Corbyn.

Department of Social Work, Care and Justice



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