Some politicians just can’t quit the public eye, but, unlike his predecessor Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader Paul Nuttall seems to have disappeared in a puff of smoke since Brexit-supporting Skegness rejected him in the 2017 general election.
Nuttall, who had become the subject of ridicule over a LinkedIn profile that suggested he held a PhD in history – he didn’t – immediately resigned the leadership he’d held for barely six months, shut down his social media and vanished from the news cycle.
As UKIP split and disappeared, he remained an MEP until 2020 and later joined the Brexit Party, but was rarely seen in Brussels, Strasbourg or elsewhere. Nor was his supposed romantic partner, the fellow MEP and former opera singer Louise Bours.
“Where on earth is Paul Nuttall?” asked the Liverpool Echo in 2018, putting out a Twitter request for people to contact them if they’d #JustseenPaulNuttall.
Five years on, neither UKIP nor Reform UK – the Brexit Party’s successor – seem to know. Had the once ubiquitous politician with outspoken views on anything from the burqa and the death penalty to whole milk been kidnapped?
No, laughs his former spokesman, Gawain Towler, when I finally track him down. Nuttall had had enough of “being mullered” in politics and decided instead to complete that controversial PhD, which is on the history of the Conservative Party in Liverpool at the turn of the 20th century, Towler says.
For Nuttall, who taught history before becoming a politician, the PhD affair was the final straw after earlier confusion over whether he’d played professionally for Tranmere Rovers (no) and lost a “close, personal friend” in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (Nuttall insists he was present at the tragedy despite no evidence of this). He continues to insist that he had never personally made any of the claims, but these allegations haunted him when, according to Towler, he was pushed to contest – and lose to Labour – a by-election in Stoke in early 2017.
“Labour’s hit on him was very effective – the myth about him being a fantasist was so powerful. It became impossible,” Towler said. He also wanted to shield his family – he is divorced with a son – and the election battles were getting too much. “The abuse was getting significant… so he just said ‘sod it’….He took himself off social media pretty sharpish.”
Towler said Nuttall, whom he has kept in touch with, seems in a better place now. “He took a lot of shit – but he’s a right winger, so that’s okay, isnt’ it?”