Paul Nuttall is nationalist but a hopeless one

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.

Naturally, this left Andrew Neil somewhat curious and so he used his election interview to enquire if Nuttall had been signalling a career move. Alas, it turns out 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.’ Mind you, if he went for the job, a Pole would only get it anyway.

Andrew Neil’s 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.

He speaks entirely in commonplaces and has the demeanour of a provincial used car salesman — nicotine ‘round the fingernails, fetherlite in the wallet, I bet she’s a right goer, eh. Slogs his guts out every day, shifting shitty motors to gullible punters, and these immigrants are coming in and going straight to the front of the queue for a council house, benefits and a diamond studded space hopper. My grandda fought Hitler, he did, but he wouldn’t recognise this country. Oh but you can’t say that these days. It’s ‘ray-cist’. It’s all PC now, with human rights and getting pregnant at 15 to get a free time share in the Algarve. Take this global warming malarkey; that’s all about the European Union and these judges in Brussels that say we can’t give our kids a clip ’round the ear. Our old man, salt of the earth he was, would smash a bottle of Watneys Red Barrel over our heads and grind the glass into our hands. Did it do us any harm? Did it ‘eck as like! It stands to reason. Of course, you can’t say that these days…

Farage was a brilliant salesman, flogging a cut-and-shut job of retro-Thatcherism, Old Labour statism, and end-of-the-pier ethnic animus. As his encounter with Andrew Neil underscored, 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.

This is what I mean about Nuttall. He’s 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 be no more soft touch on 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?

A version of this article appeared in the Spectator.

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