Under Paul Nuttall, Ukip is poised to take the North – Jeremy Corbyn should be afraid

Labour faces a lose-lose scenario. If Ukip does well, it could take votes away from Labour in the North and Midlands. Labour lost Scotland to a nationalist party, after all. Even if Ukip did not win Labour seats, it could help the Tories gain some Lab-Con marginals

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The Independent Online

Only Ukip could manage to implode in the hour of its ultimate triumph at the June referendum. The party with a death wish now has one last chance of a reprieve under its latest new leader, Paul Nuttall.

Whether he can halt the bitter faction-fighting and personality feuds is open to doubt. But Nuttall offers the best hope of Ukip finding a new role now the mission in its own name has been accomplished.

Nuttall, who grew up in Bootle, Merseyside, appears well-placed to target “patriotic” traditional Labour supporters in the North and Midlands. He is lucky that Jeremy Corbyn has not yet appealed to these voters, and has preached to the already-converted metropolitan middle class. Nor will Corbyn bow to pressure from some Labour MPs to toughen the party’s line on immigration, which opens the door for Ukip if it can unite behind Nuttall.

Labour faces a lose-lose scenario. If Ukip does well, it could take votes away from Labour in the North and Midlands. Labour lost Scotland to a nationalist party, after all. Even if Ukip did not win Labour seats, it could help the Tories gain some Lab-Con marginals by dragging Labour’s vote down. Conversely, if Ukip implodes and Theresa May delivers on Brexit, some of its supporters might switch back to the Conservatives, hurting Labour in swing seats. So the Labour leadership should take the Ukip threat more seriously.

Paul Nuttall elected new leader of Ukip

True, Nuttall’s anti-abortion stance, his support for the death penalty for child killers and a greater role for private companies in the NHS might repel some Labour voters. It will not be easy for a nasty party to reposition itself on the left. Nuttall will need to boost Ukip’s appeal to women; the party’s top four posts are now held by two Pauls, a Peter and a Patrick.

The biggest threat to Nuttall might come from allies of Nigel Farage. Ukip is very short of money and its biggest donor, the millionaire businessman Arron Banks, has taken his chequebook away. He is considering whether to launch a new social media-based movement in the new year modelled on Italy’s successful Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo. Donald Trump’s victory could make the prospect of a new anti-Westminster movement even more attractive to Banks. In the Brexit/Trump era, anything could happen.

Handing over the torch to Nuttall, a one-time protégé with whom he has had differences in more recent times, Farage pledged to “go on supporting Ukip”. Despite his desire to “get [his] life back”, it would be no surprise if Farage emerged at the head of Banks’s planned movement. Whether it would join forces with Ukip or supplant it is a critical question. A new name for Ukip would be a good idea.

Ukip’s biggest challenge is to ensure there can be life after Nigel. Love him or hate him, Farage has been one of the most successful politicians of our age. Few people have made such an impact as virtually a one-man band without the backing of a mainstream party. The EU referendum would not have happened without him. Now it is doubtful whether Ukip can prosper without him.

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