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Paul Nuttall interview: I don’t want to lead Ukip

13 February 2014

Ukip’s autumn conference made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It was supposed to be a showcase of how grown up the party is these days, but it ended up being about Godfrey Bloom calling women ‘sluts’ and hitting a journalist. In the conference hall, Nigel Farage bounded onto the stage to a strange remix of 1990s dance music and his famous ‘who are you’ diatribe at Herman van Rompuy.

But while Bloom stole the headlines and Farage delivered his usual routine, the most impressive performance of the day came from Paul Nuttall MEP, the party’s deputy leader. Nuttall is quite a different Ukipper to his boss. He’s a bald Liverpuddlian who sees his main mission as attracting Labour voters to the party. He told the conference that Ukip was the ‘official opposition’ in the North of England. The party has been trying to prove this point in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election – and we’ll see how much of an impact the party has made when the result is announced in the small hours of tomorrow morning. But Nuttall has also been mentioned as a potential future leader of the party. So when I met up with him in Ukip’s London offices on the eve of the by-election I was curious to learn whether that’s where Nuttall sees his future – and what difference that would make to the party.

‘Er,’ he says uncomfortably, when I ask whether he wants to lead the party one day. ‘Not really. Look, Nigel and I came pretty much at the same time… we’re good friends, very good friends.’

What if Farage decided to stand down?

‘Would I stand in a leadership election? I’ve had two opportunities before and I’ve said no, it just wasn’t right. The first time I was 32, the second time I was 33. I thought I was too young and too inexperienced to go on and do it. If Nigel stood down I think the likelihood is that I wouldn’t, no, I don’t think so.

‘I think to be perfectly honest with you as well, I think to be the leader of Ukip or to be the leader of a political party, you’ve got to be based primarily down in London and I’m not. I’m based up in the north of England and I want to build Ukip in the north of England more than anything else.’

Nuttall is fascinated not just by the way working class Labour voters are up for grabs in the North but by the decline of Conservatism in northern cities, too. He is in the middle of a PhD in history at Liverpool Hope University, which he hopes to finish once the European elections are over, on the survival of the Conservative party in Liverpool between the wars. He explains:

‘Between the wars, every single town and city was going Labour and only one city stuck strictly to the Conservative line and that was Liverpool and I wanted to know why Liverpool was different.’

He was a Conservative once, too. He stood as a councillor in the local elections in 2001, but lost faith in the party when Iain Duncan Smith was booted out. It wasn’t just that he thought that ousting IDS was ‘fundamentally undemocratic’, but that the party was ‘all becoming a bit wishy-washy’. He started hearing about Ukip in 2004, joined up, and by 2005 was standing as a parliamentary candidate in Bootle, where he grew up. Four years after joining, he was made party chairman. ‘It was a mess,’ he says, remembering the party in the early days.


Farage – who pops in at one point for a natter, surrounded by an aura of cigarette smoke, tidied the party up, but Nuttall accepts that even by 2010 the party was still making big mistakes. He says ‘we got our campaign wrong in 2010′ and that the party ‘spread our resources right across the country and what we did was try to affect the result and spend money in areas where we could keep people out. There wasn’t the ambition to get people in, I don’t think.’

In 2015, he argues, the party should focus on areas where Ukip has councillors and strong local branches and focus on getting one person elected to the House of Commons. There might still be local deals where an association decides not to field a candidate against a sufficiently eurosceptic Conservative, or even a Labour MP (the party did not fight Frank Field in 2010 because he was considered sufficiently robust). But neither Farage nor Nuttall seem that interested in courting sitting MPs for defections. Farage insists that Ukip is its own party now and he isn’t trying to meet up with potential defectors, but he also accepts that David Cameron’s pledge for an EU referendum last year also weakened Ukip’s appeal to disaffected Conservatives.

But even though Farage isn’t courting Conservative MPs, he is still focusing on courting the Conservative vote while Nuttall focuses on Labour. He certainly seems a better fit for a north-western doorstep than Farage: he’s a cheery chap who tends to break into a big grin halfway through an answer for no apparent reason. Nuttall has never voted Labour, but his parents were Labour supporters, and so were his friends – although he adds hastily that they ‘have voted Labour up to now’. He says:

‘I think Nigel appeals pretty much across the board on common sense, but the idea that we’ve had over the years is that I will lead the charge on the Labour vote basically because I am from that kind of background. I think the seat where I was brought up was Labour’s safest seat in the country from 1997 to 2005, so I was brought up very much in that background and I just think it’s low hanging fruit.

‘People aren’t voting Labour any more, people feel let down, people feel as if the Labour party isn’t representing them. There is a significant proportion of old Labour, patriotic voters out there who are looking for something new.’

But is Ukip the answer to the questions these old Labour voters are asking? Nuttall thinks they are, but he accepts that the party needs to have ‘slightly different policies’ in different parts of the country (although ‘we’re not chancers like the Lib Dems’).

What does play very well in Labour areas is immigration. The only problem is that so far there doesn’t seem to have been much of a ‘deluge’ of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania that Farage and Nuttall were predicting at their autumn conference. Isn’t that a problem for Ukip?

Nuttall thinks ‘there might well be’ a deluge of migrants from April. ‘We’re six weeks in,’ he says. ‘This is going to have to be measured over a longer period of time, probably a year. Let’s not forget they can’t claim benefits until April 1st, April Fool’s Day.’

And he suggests that large numbers of new migrants could cause community tensions:

‘Well you just have to see what’s going on in Sheffield at the moment and David Blunkett has spoken out about it, with a huge Roma influx. In fact what Blunkett said wasn’t too dissimilar to what Enoch Powell said, strangely enough. My fear is that if people come in large numbers, don’t speak the language, don’t assimilate then there is the cause for potential community tensions.’

When I probe him on other party policies, though, it’s difficult to see much that is left-wing in it other than a desire to protect universal benefits for pensioners.

‘I believe in a small state,’ he says. ‘But equally, at the same time, I mean what do these people actually want? What they want is to have more money in their pockets, what they want is to feel safe when they go out of an evening, what they want is to see our borders protected, what they want is to get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. This is what they want, we all want the same in effect.’

He dodges questions on whether the party should commit to a flat tax again in 2015, but he agrees that the current top rate of tax is too high. And the party’s commitment to pensioner benefits is partly because ‘what killed us in Labour areas [in 2010] was a commitment to take away the means-tested bus pass’.

How well Ukip does in today’s by-election will show whether Nuttall and his colleagues are really gaining the attention of Labour voters, or whether Ed Miliband’s party is still managing to kill Ukip in Labour areas. And even though Nuttall claims he doesn’t want the party leadership, there’s a funny look on his face as he says it that makes me suspect that he probably does, deep down. If he does, then results such as Wythenshawe will be key to whether the boy from Bootle ends up leading a party he joined a decade ago.

Read more about Ukip’s Wythenshawe and Sale East campaign here.

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  • global city

    What UKIP need to understand is that most voters in the North are not Socialists, have different aspirations than a big state with a big clientele, etc. They vote Labour through some undefined notion that at least they understand and will not attack the poorer groups. The irony, which should be played by UKIP is that the New Left caucus of Labour now despise the ‘workers’.

    Most people understand only too well the negatives of an overweening state, most also understand that ending the 11 plus only denied their children the chance to move on and prosper.

    MASS immigration is an issue across the board, but UKIPP need to be wary of the debate slipping into the darker issue of plain old immigration and immigrants. Bob Crowe said this morning that UKIP are anti immigrant, an all too easy tag to stick if you go on and on about immigration.

  • Davidh

    He may be a nice chap but it looks like he passed on the oportunity to say something about policy areas other than immigration. What about health, welfare, schools, union issues? The UKIP policy appears to be to avoid any topics that traditionaly have left / right answers, apart from immigration, in the hope of attracting voters from both sides. And that doesn’t come accross as entirely honest. I’m all for breaking down the left / right divide and finding more pragmatic solutions, but so far UKIP is not offering.

    • Wessex Man

      He’s probably thinking when you- Tory, Lab and Lib/dums show me yours I’ll show you mine, as in manifestos of course!

    • crosscop

      Your health, welfare, schools and union issues are all affected by the pressure of mass immigration. Sort out immigration and the other matters benefit automatically.

  • Bill Brinsmead

    He is an MEP for us in the North West and still will not tell us how much he is trousering for not doing his job: rumoured to be well north of £125,000 per year.

    • gerontius


    • fubarroso

      £125K is not an awful lot of money with which to run an office in Brussels. Also UKIP MEPs have donated rather a lot of money to their party.

      Can you tell me how much LibLabCon MEPs have donated to their respective parties?

      • Bill Brinsmead

        He gets another slew of money to run his ‘office’ – £250,000+. But he won’t tell us.

        Our Europhile Lib Dem MEP, Chris Davies, tells what and how he spends so why can’t Paul Nuttall?

    • global city

      But his ‘job’ is to pass legislation that sucks more and more power to the EU, that is why ‘they do not do their MEP job’… they do other, much more important work.

  • Magnolia

    “our boxers protected”?

  • Hello

    “there’s a funny look on his face as he says it that makes me suspect that he probably does, deep down”

    Surely not?

  • HookesLaw

    A nice hagiography of UKIP. Presumably this is what the owners want. I seem to have heard that Nuttall was useless on a recent QT.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …and that’s the forum by which you socialists judge all, eh, laddie?

  • Kitty MLB

    Nigel Farage, as Shakespeare said,
    The prince of darkness is a gentleman-
    Only joking before I am slayed by Kippers,
    with sharp swords.
    The problem for Ukip is they need to keep
    hold of Nigel Farage, he is a genuine and reasonable
    chap and not too over the top.
    At the same time some in the Conservative Party
    would like Farage as our leader -not too sure how that would work-infact it never would.
    Always a good idea to have another leader lined up though,
    in every party.
    Oh, and by the way, Paul Nuttall is a nice chap also.

    • Wessex Man

      well thank you for your kind words, I think!

  • rtj1211

    Paul Nuttall, whether you agree with him or not, is what a politician should be about. He knocks on doors, talks to people, speaks his mind and stands up for his kind of person.

    The only danger for UKIP as I see it is if it gets too many people who got there ‘because they’ve rejected the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives’.

    They need people to support UKIP for what they are, not what they are not.

    I do ask UKIP to consider whether they would have opposed the building of motorways in the 1970s as an opportunistic electioneering strategy??

    The reason I ask is that the one thing people hate politicians for more than anything else is opposing their opponent’s policies simply as a cynical vote grabbing exercise. It’s the ultimate cad saying ‘I love you’ to a girl to get into her knickers, when he has absolutely no intention of marrying her afterwards.

    • Kitty MLB

      The problem for Ukip, is that rightly or wrongly
      they are known as a one topic party.
      Elsewhere, on another site I use they do not often
      stray ffom the topic of Europe- I know
      The Eu is a wretched dying elephant,
      but what about the enonomy, how will
      they find the money for what they want to do.
      I have asked this question before and do not get
      any answers.
      Also, Obviously Ukip are also a threat to Labour,
      No idea why only Conservative votes are spoken

      • HookesLaw

        One topic? One man more like and Nuttall sounds like he does not want to change that.
        I cannot for the life of me think why any socialist would want to vote for UKIP with people like Nuttall and Farage running it. UKIPs purpose is to split the right wing vote and let Labour in.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          “I cannot for the life of me think why any socialist would want to vote for UKIP…”


          …and you Camerluvvies would know exactly how a socialist would think, eh, laddie?

        • saffrin

          The appeal UKIP have for ex Labour voters is jobs, homes, access to the NHS, school places for their kids.
          The problem with Labour is they fail to understand how deeply they have betrayed their core vote.
          The same as ex Conservative voters really. Both being betrayed for different reasons with UKIP picking up millions of dissenters from both.

        • Kitty MLB

          I have always been very supportive of UKIP,
          although still a Conservative but I do worry about
          the two Ed’s. Saying that Cameron and I have
          had a parting of the ways, he doesn’t want to know
          the grassroots of his party.
          Yet Labour..Oh I don’t know 😉

          • Wessex Man

            it’s not like you to be so confused!

            • Kitty MLB

              Yes I know I am not usually confused.
              I am a Conservative, will never support
              the wretched party destroying Cameroons,
              and these days politically closer to UKIP.
              I suppose , I am disheartened,
              a UKIP person I Know and respect hugely from
              ConservativeHome said they will all be leaving that place
              soon because their job, wrecking the Conservative
              Party is nearly over.
              I thought it was about providing an alternative to
              the other three parties- which we need,
              especially with the Leftie dominance of politics in this country.
              He made it sound like a game UKIP were playing,
              I hope he is wrong, and its not a game- UKIP
              are needed.

        • Chris lancashire

          I actually don’t think that is Ukip’s purpose but it certainly will be a result.

        • global city

          Most people who vote Labour are not actually socialists. Do you actually believe that?
          Mostly they are just suspicious of the Tories, as they are much closer to oblivion, so vote for the party least likely to send them over the edge. There is a terrible sad irony there, but that’s the case.

      • global city

        Who cares actually?

        If we ever had a UKIP government (which is the only way in which your point would be relevant) I am sure that they would have some safe, middle of the road ideas on that and things like the NHS, whilst they did the vital job of getting us out of the EU.

        After that they an be chosen again, or not, depending on their over all performance, just like any other governing party.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Paul Nuttall is a very good egg.

    • telemachus associates

      But deluded.

      No point at all in wasting energy targeting Labour.

      Your average Sun reader may have an ounce of sympathy with UKIP’s reprehensible racial agenda but what they see and hear is the hail fellow well met backslapping right wing types that make the bulk of the UKIP top deck.

      UKIP do have a key role in delivering the 43 Tory marginals to Labour and are on track for this.

      If they had an economic agenda it might help but as Isabel points above Nuttall has no clue, even on the vote grabbing tax issues.

      One of the less erudite posters around here pointed us to an interesting fact from Guido:

      ” Gordon can be paid as much as $100,000 for a single speech in America to investors at finance conferences”

      What does this tell us?
      It tells us that worldwide his economic competence is lauded. Just as we will laud the expertise of his apprentice Ed after the next election.

      • john king

        seriously wierd.

      • ButcombeMan

        it actually tells us that you can fool some of the people most of the time.
        History will mark Brown as incompetent and Blair as duplicitous

      • saffrin

        As expected, Labour never learn by their mistakes.
        Still blind, still stupid.

      • Ricky Strong

        “What does this tell us?
        It tells us that worldwide his economic competence is lauded”

        Gold; and

        Brown’s bottom

      • Colonel Mustard

        “It tells us that worldwide (Brown’s) economic competence is lauded. Just as we will laud the expertise of his apprentice Ed after the next election.”

        You mean the economic competence that is now claiming £10,000 per week in expenses and running a charity that only gives one pound in four to – er – charity?

        • telemachus associates

          Yes, that was the post

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