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Coffee House General Election 2017

Paul Nuttall, the hopeless populist

Paul Nuttall doesn’t want to be a hangman after all. There was some doubt over the weekend when the Ukip leader said he’d bring back the death penalty and would even pull the lever himself.  

This left Andrew Neil somewhat curious and so he used his election interview to enquire if Nuttall had been signalling a career move. But it turns out he wasn’t. He’d be up for stringing up nonces to make a point but wasn’t seeking new opportunities in that sector. ‘I don’t want to be Albert Pierrepoint,’ he told Neil. ‘That’s not what I want to go into after politics.’

The leader interviews have been revealing, showing up Theresa May’s deer-like terror at being asked about detail and Jeremy Corbyn’s facility for on-the-spot revisionism of every view he has ever espoused. This one didn’t reveal so much as confirm — Paul Nuttall is no Nigel Farage. 

Even in my rootless, globalist heart, I feel sorry for the nativist right. Fifty years ago, their tribune was Enoch Powell, a ghastly old reactionary but a classical scholar of far renown. Today, they’re stuck with Paul Nuttall, a man whose name sounds like an altercation outside a chip shop on a Friday night. 

Farage was a brilliant salesman, flogging a cut-and-shut job of retro-Thatcherism, Old Labour statism, and end-of-the-pier ethnic animus. The interview revealed that Nuttall is out of even the shallow depths of the new populism. Defensive and inarticulate, he struggled to hold the line on his central manifesto pledges. One minute banning the burka was about integration, the next he was touting research into the risk of rickets. He backed internment for terrorist suspects, even when reminded (or more likely informed) that Operation Demetrius proved a recruitment drive for the IRA. So he back-tracked a little, said maybe it could be done at some point in the future — perhaps they could just tag some of them for now. 

Nuttall is a rubbish nationalist. He should have pushed back and said that the safety of decent, law-abiding people came first and if internment caused a spike in Islamist activity, a few televised lethal injections would put an end to that. There would no longer be a soft-touch approach to extremists. Bang them all up, deport their families, bring back the birch. And if you wishy-washy Guardianistas have a problem with it, you go look those parents in Manchester in the eye and tell them about your bleeding hearts and your Article 5s. That is a populism you can respect. Nuttall is a squib and a squirmer. ‘Look, Andrew. Ukip doesn’t want to send kids back up chimneys and tar and feather litterers. That’s just a personal view I hold.’

Ukip is clinging to relevance by its fingertips and their best chance of a revival is if Theresa May blunders Brexit. If that happens — and it might not be that big an ‘if’ — Ukip might pull off a comeback but it won’t be under the rambling, incoherent Nuttall. ‘The problem we have with the burka is that it stops people communicating,’ he assured Neil at one point. What’s his excuse?

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