He crashed in Stoke. But a sharper operator could still revive the northern rightby Philip Collins / March 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
At Ukip’s February conference in Bolton everything was purple, even the prose in the pamphlets. There were purple rosettes, purple baseball caps and purple devices that help you deliver a leaflet without getting bitten by a dog. There were purple clothes and it probably rained purple rain. The new Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, MEP for the North West, was on his own patch. Until local elections in 2014, Ukip had no councillors in Bolton and now it is the third largest party in the borough. It is exactly the sort of northern mill town, with a tradition of working-class conservative voters, that Nuttall’s leadership is said to target. Yet he may struggle. For it is starting to look like he may somehow be not quite purple enough.
To anyone unversed in the tense rivalries of northern England, Paul Nuttall might seem the perfect Ukip leader. He is audibly Liverpudlian and what could be more northern than that? This is to reckon without the exceptionalism of Liverpool or the dislike of Scousers in Manchester. As Paul Morley points out in his monumental book The North, identities can be very localised. The idea of the north west only exists in the fantasies of European parliament constituencies. Indeed, the only time people say they come from the north is to draw the contrast with the soft south.
Nuttall’s problem may run deeper than that. He has a northern authenticity problem even within Liverpool itself. The index of being a pure Scouser is having one of Liverpool City Council’s luminous purple wheelie bins. As a resident of Bootle in the neighbouring borough of Sefton it is a test that Nuttall fails. He is regularly dismissed in Liverpool as either a “wool,” which means a plastic Scouser from beyond the city proper, or a “meff” which means a tramp. If Nuttall dumps Ukip in the dustbin of history it might be because his bin isn’t purple enough.