This article by Peter Hooton first appeared in The New European Magazine. @TheNewEuropean
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. My city 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 dominated 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 as a city. Liverpool 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 period, propaganda cultivated that 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 – namely the Orange and the Green. The casual nature of Liverpool’s dock work also helped this struggle between the religions that was very similar to the cities of Belfast and Glasgow. There were certainly instances of solidarity between the mainly Catholic dockworkers and the Protestant ‘Carters’ most notably around the 1911 dock strike but they were few and far between as suspicion fear and civil unrest was always on the horizon. This fear and suspicion blighted Liverpool’s political landscape for over a century.
We had hoped those days of division were well and truly confined to history books but 2016 is certainly full of surprises. So when UKIP elected Paul Nuttall as their leader recently the spectre of fear and division appeared once again on the skyline. Paul 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 3200 schools operating in 130 countries in the image of Don Bosco 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 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.
During his leadership acceptance speech on November 28th he made a speech that 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 media 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.
It’s 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 have 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 Party Conference 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 Paul Nuttall stood at the general election in his home town of Bootle he got 4915 (10.9%) compared to Labour’s 33,619 (74.5% of the vote) and their UK membership is miniscule. In the recent UKIP election Paul Nuttall received 9,622 votes, which was 62% of the 15,370 votes cast. These figures were hardly mentioned in the news media as they led with the percentage to justify the ‘landslide’ mandate leading some of the news programmes. UKIP seem to attract an enormous amount of media attention that many see as unwarranted as they only have 1 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 that their 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 the Labour heartlands? Multi millionaire insurance magnate and South African goldmine owner Aaron Banks one of their biggest donors will be happy with their proposed flat rate of tax for everyone including the super rich like Aaron. Their party is full of free market libertarians who think the market is king – when this is explained to them surely the traditional Labour voters will understand that many of the post industrial towns need government investment and planning to revive their fortunes. Paul 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 Liverpool 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 offer redundant free market policies that brought the North to its knees in the 1980s. They don’t have a coherent economic strategy but will appeal to people looking for scapegoats for their fall in living standards. The OECD reported this year that since 2007 before the banking crash real wages had dropped by 10% in the UK. The only other country in the developed world that had a similar drop in real wages 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 is repeating itself and instead of looking at the failed economic policy of ‘austerity and cuts’ for their predicament they look 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 had taught both of us texted me when they heard he had been elected leader of UKIP – he called him a opportunistic ‘whopper’ who will be found out sooner rather than later. I doubt Don Bosco would be impressed!
~ Peter Hooton