UKIP's Paul Nuttall will be found out sooner rather than later
PUBLISHED: 22:36 14 February 2017 | UPDATED: 22:36 14 February 2017
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They grew up in the same area and went to the same school, but their views could not be more different. Here, frontman of The Farm Peter Hooton tries to teach new UKIP leader Paul Nuttall a few lessons from their roots
I went to the same school, had some of the same teachers and had a similar upbringing to Paul Nuttall, so why do our views on life and politics differ so much?
I grew up and live in the city of Liverpool. It has a great shared history with the Labour party and it is rightly regarded as a city of radicals. However, until the modern era, it was a city dominated by religion and the sectarian politics of fear and division.
The Conservative & Unionist Party held sway over Liverpool during the 19th century and didn’t relinquish its stranglehold until after the Second World War.
Much of this can be put down to the way Liverpool developed and grew. It had seen a massive influx of Irish immigrants during the period of the potato famine (1845-52) and the census of 1851 recorded that 22% of Liverpool’s population was born in Ireland, nearly 84,000 people out of a total population of 376,000.
During that time, propaganda cultivated the notion that ‘the Irish’ depressed wages and living standards (sound familiar?), and the ruling classes exploited this by encouraging the division of workers on religious grounds – the Orange and the Green.
The casual nature of Liverpool’s dock work also helped this struggle between the religions, which was very similar to what was happening in the cities of Belfast and Glasgow.
There were certainly instances of solidarity between the mainly Catholic dockworkers and the Protestant carters – who used horses to move goods around the city – most notably around the 1911 dock strike. But these were few and far between: suspicion, fear and civil unrest were always on the horizon, and blighted Liverpool’s political landscape for more than a hundred years.
We had hoped those days of division were well and truly confined to history books, but 2016 has certainly been full of surprises. And when UKIP elected Paul Nuttall as their leader last month, the spectre of fear and division loomed once again.
Nuttall went to Savio Salesian College in Bootle, as I did. It was established by the Salesian priests in the 1960s and is part of a community of 3,200 schools operating in 130 countries in the image of Don Bosco – an Italian priest and eductor who worked with the urban poor in nineteenth century Turin – for the ‘betterment’ of young people.
Bootle is a thoroughly working class district, which grew from the docks in the 19th century. The vast majority of its residents, presumably including Nuttall, will have some Celtic blood in their veins, be it Irish, Welsh or Scottish.
But those migrations were historical, and since the Second World War, Bootle has hardly been touched by immigration. At the last census, in 2011, 95.8% of residents were born in the UK, 0.6 were from the Republic of Ireland, 1.7 from the EU and 1.9% from non-EU countries. This makes it all the more surprising that Paul Nuttall, a son of Bootle, could now be championing a political organisation that has xenophobia at its heart.
In his speech after being unveiled as leader, he claimed UKIP would replace Labour in the north. It was certainly a bold claim, some would say a wild exaggeration, but he knew it would attract media attention.
His reactionary, populist sound bites might play well with the press, but for me it’s not the future that people in the north – or the rest of the UK, for that matter – want or need. They don’t need someone to the right of Thatcher. The north, in particular, suffered enough under her policies. Maybe potential UKIP voters need reminding of this.
Its UKIP, not Labour, which faces an existential threat now that it’s raison d’etre has disappeared. They campaigned to bring us out of Europe. What remains for them to do: privatise the NHS? I’m sure that’s going to go down well in the working class communities they want to represent. UKIP has certainly changed the political landscape by whipping up reactionary elements, backed by much of the media. Nigel Farage, the previous leader, claimed after Theresa May’s Tory conference speech, that UKIP, and himself in particular, had “changed the centre of gravity of British politics. Virtually everything she said in that speech are things that I’ve said to the UKIP conference over the course of the last five or six years”.
But has the newly elected leader got the same media savvy credentials? The simple truth is that when Nuttall stood at the general election in his home town of Bootle last year, he got only 4,915 votes (10.9%) compared with Labour’s 33,619 (74.5%), and UKIP’s membership is miniscule. In the recent leadership elections, Nuttall received just 9,622 votes, which was 62% of the 15,370 votes cast. These figures were hardly mentioned in the media, as reports concentrate on the percentage, to justify the ‘landslide’ mandate leading some of the news programmes.
UKIP seems to attract an enormous amount of media attention, that many consider unwarranted, since the party only has one Member of Parliament – and he defected from the Tories.
According to the Electoral Commission, UKIP only raised £43,000 between June and September this year (less than the far right BNP) and it is uncertain whether donors will continue funding a party that has helped achieve its main objective – Brexit!
So what solutions do UKIP offer to the working classes they are trying to appeal to in Labour heartlands?
The party is full of free market libertarians who think the market is king. Once this is explained to them, surely the traditional Labour voters will understand that many post industrial towns need government investment and planning to revive their fortunes.
Nuttall only has to look at the incredible reverse in Liverpool’s fortunes after EU money was poured in during the 1990s to understand that without it the city would have been allowed to decline by free market zealots.
Labour must not be complacent though, and they must deliver a clear rational and appealing vision on job, wages, growth and living standards.
UKIP offers redundant free market policies that brought the north to its knees in the 1980s. It doesn’t don’t have a coherent economic strategy but will appeal to people looking for scapegoats for their fall in living standards.
Earlier this year, research showed that since the credit crunch began in 2007, real wages had fallen by 10.4%. The only other country in the developed world with a similar drop was Greece.
We all know what happened after the Wall St Crash of 1929: many countries looked for reasons for their hardship, and the right wing prospered. It appears that since the banking collapse, history has been repeating itself. And instead of looking at the failed economic policies of austerity and cuts for their predicament, people have looked to the simplistic, populist slogans of UKIP.
Paul Nuttall is enjoying a disproportionate amount of attention at the moment, but has he the skills to capitalise on it. A teacher who taught both of us texted me when they heard he had been elected UKIP leader – he called him a opportunistic ‘whopper’ who will be found out sooner rather than later. I doubt Don Bosco would be impressed!
Peter Hooton went to Savio Salesian College before becoming a youth & community worker in Liverpool, producing the legendary ‘The End’ magazine and then having a successful career singing and with The Farm.