Paul Nuttall was elected new UK Independence Party leader with the biggest mandate ever recorded in any of the party’s leadership elections, receiving a huge 62.6% of the vote, defeating Suzanne Evans and John Rees-Evans.
It was always likely that Mr Nuttall, 39, would replace Nigel Farage as Party Leader from when he stated his intention to stand last month. In that time, he has receiving glowing endorsements from many high-ranking party members, as well as criticism along the way from some, but it is his reputation as Deputy Leader under Mr Farage that has convinced the membership that it is his time to step-up to the top job.
Before confirmation of Mr Nuttall’s victory, Mr Farage said: “I don’t regret for one minute that I’ve devoted my adult life to fighting this cause”. He also spoke about the anti-establishment results that has come this year, saying: “in this amazing, transformative, and in many ways, revolutionary 2016, it was Brexit that directly led to the establishment getting beaten on November 8th and Donald J Trump taking the Presidency.”
Mr Farage also joked that he would ensure the winner would sign the required paperwork to formally take over as leader, poking fun at Diane James’s reluctance to sign the paperwork after her election as leader on September 16th.
Talking to New Media Central UK after his victory yesterday, Mr Nuttall said he was “over the moon” with the vote, adding: “My call for unity has resonated with people within the party, and we must come together and build a new UKIP for a greater future.” Mr Nuttall confirmed that he was, in effect, assembling a shadow cabinet, wasting no time appointing allies to new roles. “There will be a significant amount of announcements, of not just spokespeople but Party Officers as well, so I’m really hitting the ground running,” adding: “But that was always going to be the case – I know the party inside-out, I’ve been Party Chairman, I’ve been Deputy Leader since 2010, I’ve been Head of Policy, I lead the MEPs out in Brussels, so I was always going to land on my feet with this one.” He also confirmed that Mr Farage would “play a big role,” and said that “he will be front-of-house, not driving from the back-seat, and will continue to be on the airwaves and be on the television promoting UKIP.”
He went on to praise Mr Farage for raising his profile. “Nigel plucked me from obscurity at the age of 31 and made me Party Chairman, so I’ve got a lot to thank him for. We came at this together in 2008 when the party was on 0% in the opinion polls, had 12,000 members and membership was falling month-by-month. I’ve been on a journey with Nigel and the membership and this is the accumulation of all of that today.”
Asking him if this was day one of a new beginning for the party, Mr Nuttall said: “It’s day zero! It’s a new beginning. Bygones must be bygones, the factionalism ends today, and this is a brand new start. What we must do is hold the government’s feet to the fire on Brexit, to ensure we get real Brexit, then move into those Labour areas to help people who don’t feel represented by Jeremy Corbyn.”
Mr Nuttall’s first appointments was Peter Whittle, who withdrew from the leadership contest to endorse Mr Nuttall, who becomes his Deputy Leader. Party Chairman Paul Oakden keeps his role, and Patrick O’Flynn – who criticised Mr Farage for being “thin-skinned, snarling and aggressive” after the 2015 General Election – is made Senior Political Advisor. Today, he has appointed Mike Hookem MEP Fisheries and Veterans Spokesman, and John Bickley becomes Immigration Spokesman; Gerrard Batten MEP is Spokesman for Brexit; Bill Etheridge MEP is Defence Spokesman and Dr Julia Reid MEP is Environment Spokeswoman.
Mr Whittle told me that “it is thrilling” that Mr Nuttall won. “I’m so excited. Paul’s first thing was to call for unity, but in a way, that’s already been completed, having got the biggest mandate in the party’s history. I think it’s going to be a very exciting time.” He was also “thrilled” with his appointment as Deputy Leader, saying that “it has been a great year. David Kurten and I got onto the London Assembly and obviously for me to be at the centre of a new era for UKIP is an honour.” He lavished praise on Mr Farage, calling him “the reason I got into UKIP in the first place”, adding: “My admiration for him is total.” He confirmed the planning for the 2020 General Election starts immediately, saying: “We will get our policy group back in action, and it’s important we start now because a lot of people say it’s a mad scramble at the end. We’ve got local elections coming-up in 2017 too, so the work must start.”
David Kurten was similarly ecstatic with the result. “It’s fantastic. He’ll stabilise the party and we will look forward to everything that comes straightaway.” Mr Kurten was happy for fellow London Assembly Member Mr Whittle on his appointment as Deputy, saying: “I’m sure he’s over the moon. He’s a good man and a good media performer.” Asked if there was a role for himself in Mr Nuttall’s shadow cabinet, Mr Kurten said: “Watch this space.” He said of Mr Farage: “I think people will look back in history at Nigel Farage as the greatest man in the 21st century.”
Ms Evans, former party spokeswoman, was putting a brave face on her disappointing vote percentage, which meant her deposit was not returned. “I knew when I went into this contest that the odds were stacked against me, but I never would have forgiven myself if I hadn’t.” Asked if there is a place for her in Mr Nuttall’s plans, Ms Evans said: “Well I gather he’s already been on television and said that there is. I look forward to see what he says.” She said that Mr Farage, whom she criticised earlier this year, resulting in a suspension from the party for bringing it into disrepute, has “put UKIP on the map. We never would have had a referendum without him and I hope he goes onto happy pastures.” Today, Ms Evans has been appointed to her former position as Deputy Co-Chairman alongside Williams Dartmouth MEP.
John Rees-Evans came third with a final total just short of Ms Evans’s, but many people whom I spoke to yesterday have praised Mr Rees-Evans and have deemed his total satisfactory, having been unheard-of by many before the contest. NMC UK, who endorsed his campaign, has contacted Mr Rees-Evans for his thoughts and hope to hear from him soon.
When reporting on the UK Independence Party’s conference in Bournemouth, myself and NMC UK Editor Sebastian Cheek asked the question: “Will it (UKIP) fade into darkness, or will it find a new revival?” Many things have happened in the weeks since, but with the likelihood that Mr Nuttall’s leadership will last longer than Diane James’s, we are surely about to discover its fate.