Paul Nuttall, Nigel Farage’s longtime number two, is the new leader of the populist, Brexit-championing UK Independence Party (UKIP or Ukip), ending months of chaos in the political organization.
The charismatic Farage stepped down as UKIP boss shortly after the Brexit referendum.
Unity candidate Nuttall defeated frequent UKIP TV spokesperson and former deputy chairperson Suzanne Evans, who had feuded with Farage and had also served a suspension from the party for about six months, by a margin about 62 percent to 19 percent. Before the UKIP membership vote, both Nuttall and Evans vowed to work together regardless of the outcome.
Steven Woolfe was the original front-runner to replace Farage, but inexplicably submitted his nomination papers a few minutes too late. Diane James was subsequently elected, but quit after just 18 days, prompting a second leadership election.
After a scuffle with another UKIP politician, Woolfe resigned from the party but is retaining his seat in the European Parliament as an independent. Fellow MEP James also switched to independent status.
Although his last name will probably give rise to unflattering nicknames, bespectacled Liverpool native Nuttall, 39, is seen as someone who apparently can continue to bring working-class Labor Party voters (which on this side of the Atlantic used to be called Reagan Democrats but perhaps now can be appropriately characterized as Trump Democrats) into the UKIP fold.
Nuttall addressed this scenario in the London Telegraph.
‘We have this fantastic opportunity, which we’ve never had before to this extent, to move into Labor working-class communities and mop up votes. I think in some of these communities we can replace the Labor Party in the next five years and become the patriotic party of the working people.”
Some observers suggest that the new UKIP leader lacks the TV presence or oratorical skills of a Farage, Woolfe, or Evans, however.
Nuttall told the BBC that “We will be focusing on the issues that really matter to working-class people on doorsteps — immigration, crime, defense, foreign aid, ensuring that British people are put to the top of the queue in the job market.”
Despite the Brexit vote on June 23, in which the British voters decided to separate from the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that would start the exit process. Moreover, Britain’s high court recently ruled that May needs to get permission from parliament first, even though the voters have already spoken.
Against this backdrop, Nuttall declared in his acceptance speech that “The country needs a strong UKIP more than ever before. If UKIP is to be an electoral force, there will be an impetus on Theresa May and her government to give us a real Brexit.”
The formerly obscure UKIP received about 4 million votes in the May 2015 general election, but because of the U.K.’s convoluted electoral system, gained only one seat in the House of Commons. Nigel Farage himself narrowly lost his bid to enter parliament in that election.
As leader of UKIP and a longtime member of the European Parliament, Farage worked tirelessly for more than two decades to extricate Britain from the European Union, which culminated in the successful vote for leave/out in the national Brexit referendum on June 23.
Relentless pressure from Farage and UKIP — along with Euroskeptics in then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s own Conservative Party — is credited with compelling Cameron to authorize the Brexit vote in the first place. In the run-up to the referendum, Cameron campaigned for the unsuccessful “remain” or stay side. He resigned from government shortly after the Brexit win and was succeeded by May.
Some political pundits in the U.K. maintain that Nigel Farage and UKIP may have ironically paved the way for Cameron and his Conservative (Tory) Party to win the May 2015 parliamentary elections in a landslide. In that election (in which pollsters claimed that Labor had the upper hand), enough Labor voters went with UKIP instead, allowing Tory candidates to slip through in some districts, while in other constituencies, UKIP-leaners apparently voted tactically for the Conservative candidate to prevent Labor from forming a left-wing government in a coalition with the separatist Scottish National Party.
Nigel Farage has since developed a strong political relationship with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. The May government has declined to appoint Farage as U.S. ambassador, however.
Paul Nuttall will lead UKIP into the next British general election, which is scheduled for May 2020, unless the prime minister calls for an earlier election.
[Featured Image by Alastair Grant/AP Images]