Even if Nigel Farage’s speech was, as Fraser blogged earlier, a wasted opportunity for the Ukip leader to impress the voters that he really needs to attract, it still pleased the members in the hall. In fact, there was more of an excited, energetic atmosphere at this conference than at any party political conference I’ve ever attended.
When I interviewed Nadine Dorries for the magazine earlier this year, she recalled the dying Tory government in 1997, saying that ‘[Voters] hated us because the Labour party promise, the vision, the song “Things Can Only Get Better” had a purchase on people’s imagination, and in their hearts that I see being replicated by Ukip today.’ You can see that start-up excitement in the delegates thronging around Westminster Central Hall today. And really, the excitement was best embodied not in Farage’s speech, but in the one that came before, from Paul Nuttall.
Paul Nuttall MEP is about as different a Ukipper as you can get from Nigel Farage. He’s a bald Liverpuddlian, for starters. This means he can appeal to a different section of the electorate, and one that as Fraser said earlier, Farage needs to attract. He told the conference that Labour voters are ‘easy pickings’, adding:
‘It’s clear now ladies and gentlemen that Ukip is now the official opposition to Labour in the North of England.’
He said he believed that Ukip would succeed in beating Labour for two reasons:
‘Firstly, the Labour party itself has abandoned its working class roots. If you look at the opinion polls, it shows that between 1997 and 2010, the majority of the Labour votes lost were in working class areas. These people are either looking elsewhere to other political parties. Many voted Liberal Democrat. They won’t do that again.
‘One or two and it’s literally one or two, will vote Conservative. Some unfortunately will hold their nose and vote BNP. But most have not voted at all. They’ve given up. And why? It’s because Labour MPs don’t represent them any more. In the days of Clement Attlee the Labour MPs came from the mills, the mines and the factories. Labour MPs today follow the same routes as the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. They go to private school, they go to Oxbridge, they get a job in an MP’s office, and they become an MP. None of them ladies and gentlemen, would know what it’s like in a working man’s club. None of them would know a council estate if it fell out the sky. And Labour’s policies do not reflect life in working class constituencies.’
He listed some of the ways Labour had abandoned working class voters. And all his talk about career politicians in the Labour party seemed a great deal more credible coming from someone who, unlike Farage, has not flitted around the elite for much of his life too. He appears to be being deployed as the ambassador to Labour, while Farage can concentrate on the angry Home Counties Tories that he relates to best.
Nuttall’s speech was more impressive and powerful that the slightly sweaty offering his boss gave a few minutes after him. The question is whether this northern MEP can become a brand in his own right in the way that Farage has managed to. If he cannot, it suggests that Ukip’s success will be more of a flash in the pan than the earthquake that the party claims it can cause in British politics.