29 November 2016, The Tablet

Paul Nuttall: The new leader who believes the UK Independence Party's policies make it a natural fit for Catholics

Nigel Farage's long-term replacement aims to turn party's political guns on Labour strongholds in the north

UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall, elected this week, was born into a Labour-voting Catholic family in Bootle, Merseyside, but until he joined the party in 2004 he had followed a Conservative line, even standing for the Tories in local elections in 2002.

His declaration back then - that he had given up his community's traditional support for Labour because of the ‘decay and decline’ he saw in his hometown under left-wing leadership -  was echoed in his acceptance speech this week when he declared his aim as party leader to replace Labour as the voice of the working class.

The Member of the European Parliament for the North-West of England and former deputy leader of the UK Independence Party, who took 62.6 per cent of the vote, told the election meeting: "Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was more interested in 'dinner-party' topics like climate change and fair trade than the interests of their working class voters, such as immigration and social mobility."

In his leadership campaign Nuttall backed the death penalty for child killers and said he would focus on the issues of immigration, patriotism and social mobility which matter to working-class voters. That capital punishment stance is at odds with Catholic teaching - and Nuttall appears committed to its return to the UK mainland. On signing the online petition in 2011, he said on his website: "I am in favour of restoring the death penalty for child and serial killers I think capital punishment is needed for such heinous crimes and I know that many other people feel the same. Generally too much attention is paid to the so called ‘human rights’ of offenders, what about the rights of victims and their families?" 

Despite his capital punishment stance he claimed in an exclusive interview with The Tablet last year that his policies were in line with Catholic sensibilities. 

"Look at the statistics," he told The Tablet. “Twelve per cent of Catholics have already indicated that they are going to vote, or have already voted, UKIP. On moral issues, we, more than any other political party, are more in line with Catholic thought. Whether it’s on gender-choice abortion or same-sex marriage, we are absolutely 100 per cent behind the Catholic Church.”

A spokeswoman for the Chair of the Bishops Conference Office for Migration Policy, the Rt Rev Paul McAleenan, and for Bishop Nicholas Hudson, who overseas Brexit issues, said they would not be commenting on the election result.

While Nuttall has promised that his Catholicism will influence his vision for the UK Independence Party, policy may have to take a back seat while he asserts control of a party that has proved notoriously difficult to prise from the grasp of the talismanic Nigel Farage.

Addressing this problem in his acceptance speech, he said: "I want to make it perfectly clear: this leader of UKIP is not going to involve himself in foreign elections, period. My focus is here, in the United Kingdom, on winning council seats and on getting UKIP backsides on the green leather of the House of Commons." He added: "I am my own man. I will be completely different to Nigel." 

Nuttall becomes the UK Independent Party's third leader in as many months after Farage's replacement Diane James lasted just 18 days in October.  

A Conservative spokesman said his party was "too divided, distracted and incompetent to offer any serious solutions for the people of Britain" and Labour’s  campaign co-ordinator Jon Trickett said: "You only need to know one thing about UKIP's new leader, Paul Nuttall: he wants privatisation in the NHS. By electing Paul Nuttall as their leader, UKIP have sent a clear message that they pose a threat to our NHS."

The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "UKIP do not speak for Britain, and their brand of reactionary, divisive politics threatens the character and cohesion of our society. There is nothing patriotic in stoking up hatred and mistrust of our neighbours. There are many who voted Leave in June who did so for decent reasons and are horrified to see UKIP try and take that vote as somehow an endorsement for their hate-filled rhetoric. It is not."

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