Campaign frontline: Despite its short term woes, UKIP hopes to bounce back

In a series of reports from the campaign frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher was at Little Lever, in Bolton South East to take a look at UKIP’s local campaign

Reversing a coach into the narrow entrance of the car park of the Queens pub in Bradley Fold took some doing. Eventually, though, the driver managed it. Perseverance and a steady hand paying off. Given this was UKIP’s new campaign battle bus, emblazoned with the smiling face of its newish leader, Paul Nuttall, the moment served as a perfect metaphor.

Small steps. Incremental progress. Steady as she goes.

This was certainly the hope as Nuttall arrived in Little Lever, a village in the Bolton South East constituency and the closest thing UKIP has to Ground Zero. The party has all three council seats and intends to build out from here into neighbouring villages.

Amid its difficulties elsewhere, with losses of county council seats and plunging opinion poll levels, Little Lever, a Brexit-voting ‘upper working-class’ enclave, counts as safe ground for the kippers.

Owner occupiers with nice semis. Small business owners. Vans on the driveways. Satellite dishes. Nice gardens. Not Emily Thornberry territory, it is safe to say. This isn’t Middle England though. This is a small town full of classic aspirational Labour voters. Skilled manual workers, not middle class professionals.

It’s also a totem for how UKIP still hopes to replace Labour in its political backyard across the north of England, picking up on working-class disaffection with issues like immigration and the general drift under Jeremy Corbyn.

Defying the stereotype, Nuttall’s advance team are chatty and friendly. There are the obligatory burly security guys, replete with their CIA-style earpieces. A few local activists gather while a pasty young man paces around the car park, his plummy accent and Barbour jacket giving him away as a UKIP staffer.

Nuttall arrives separately. Less cocky than he often appears on television, he glad hands activists with sincerity. Approachable, affable, even, he looks comfortable in their presence.

He’s among friends. The pub’s landlord, Sean Hornby, is also UKIP’s group leader on Bolton Council. A close ally of Nuttall’s, he is advising the party on local campaigning, helping address the deficit in their ground game, which has caused them problems in a string of by-elections where they should have performed better.

After a pep talk inside, they head off to the local shopping precinct. Although teeming with rain, the buoyed-up kippers have set up a purple gazebo on the high street. A procession of cars pip their horns – whether as endorsement or complaint – it’s hard to tell.

Nuttall shows he’s no slouch as a street campaigner. Relaxed and friendly, he poses for photos with well-wishers and passers-by. There is little by the way of stage management. UKIP thrives on conflict, so there’s little need to avoid their critics.

As part of a safe Labour seat, Little Lever doesn’t see many high profile political visits so the UKIP caravan at least has the advantage of novelty.

Nuttall walks up and hugs a tall man in his 60s wearing a ‘Help for Heroes’ hoodie. It turns out the man, Phil, is an ex-Labour party member who is now firmly backing UKIP.

He likes what the local councillors do for the area. They can be found here on the high street every other Saturday. The other two weeks they hold surgeries in Tesco and the local library.

Like most Lancastrians, Phil takes people as he finds them and respects hard work. Could he ever be tempted back to Labour? “No chance”. Corbyn is “an idiot” who “acts like he’s already given up.”

It’s a familiar refrain. Labour has lost its way and doesn’t respect its once-loyal voters in places like Little Lever. Many are still basking in the Brexit result. As they see it, all the right people are moaning about the result.

The journey from Labour to UKIP is one taken by the Bolton UKIP’s deputy chairman, Noel Harris, a former party member. “As a child my mum joined me” he explains.

“She was a big socialist. I’ve always been a massive supporter of the Labour party. I’ve been on all your anti-Nazi marches and been on quite a few demonstrations. A really big trade unionst, believed in it all.” What changed? “Tony Blair came along and ruined it for me. That was it.”

The UKIP leader is in philosophical mood. Is his best hope that things pick up in the medium term? “Yes, of course” he replies. “The one thing that 24/7 news gives you is everyone has a short term mentality. Politics isn’t, it’s cyclical and its long-term and at the moment of course we’re having a bit of a difficult period because Theresa May’s able to ‘talk the talk’ without having to ‘walk the walk’ [on Brexit]…”

He thinks things will swing back UKIP’s way when negotiations start.

“I am convinced that if you look at Theresa May’s track record she will begin to backslide on Brexit and when she does, when she begins to barter away fisheries, when there’s some sort of deal on freedom of movement, when we pay some sort of divorce bill, people will feel let down, betrayed, and all of those people who voted Leave on June 23rd will come back to UKIP in their droves.”

So is he himself in it for the long haul? “Yeah, I’ve got a lot of things to do. When I came to the job I said that I would restructure the party, rebrand the party, change how it works, professionalise and of course this general election has unfortunately come too soon for those new ways of doing things to be enacted,” he says “but there’ll be big changes at the conference in September.”

Although frank about his modest expectations on June 8, Nuttall is probably right about UKIP gaining a second wind if the government’s hard line on Brexit wavers. And whatever happens, Labour clearly has an enduring problem winning over UKIP-inclined, Brexit supporting social conservatives in many places like Little Lever. Is it a terminal situation?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of  Uncut

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9 Responses to “Campaign frontline: Despite its short term woes, UKIP hopes to bounce back”

  1. Tafia says:

    BREXIT has pulled the rug out from under UKIP’s feet. It now needsto find a new Casus belli or it will shrivel to irrelevance (bit like Labour are doing LOL)

  2. Anne says:

    Have to disagree with you Kevin – UKIP is history – there is no point to their existence.

  3. steve says:

    “… his plummy accent and Barbour jacket giving him away as a UKIP staffer.”

    So that’s where all those feverishly ambitious New Labour SpAds went.

  4. John Reid says:

    See how the Rotherham child abuse in the future, labours appeasing of Islams homophobia and sexism for votes ,plays out, it might appear minimal while FGM doesn’t affect white girls or the cops stop , many terror plots, but if the police didn’t stop them, and it appeared labour were
    Letting communities turn a blind eye to it, and the Tories had cut the police, so stabbings are going up,as is child abuse

    I’m sure Ukip would have a new cause

  5. buttley says:

    …..”Skilled manual workers, not middle class professionals.”

    From the 2001 census.

    The working population of Little Lever was 8000 out of 12000 odd residents.

    Managerial/administrative (Classes AB & C1) 4,200

    Skilled manual workers (Class C2) 1,900

    Semi skilled/unskilled manual (Class C2) 1,900

  6. madasafish says:

    “Like most Lancastrians, Phil takes people as he finds them and respects hard work. Could he ever be tempted back to Labour? “No chance”. Corbyn is “an idiot” who “acts like he’s already given up.””

    My morning walk today took me through the local country park where I encountered two OAPs. We always briefly stop and chat. They were scathing about Miliband in 2015 and are a useful gauge of OAP opinion..

    Their words were similar to those expressed above but rather more forceful .

    Our constituency was Labour in 1997 with a majority of around 5,000 votes. It is now safe Tory with a majority of 10,000 (doubled in 2015).

    To form a Government Labour have to win seats like ours. Not a hope for the next 15 years . Labour will need a modern all inclusive approach and have to stop calling voters “evil, bigots” and other incendiary rubbish when they vote Tory..(which is now the majority party).. Which basically means the entire Shadow Cabinet needs to go .

    Any Party which votes for a Leader like Corbyn has the wrong approach to voters…It will take at least a decade to recover assuming it drops him on 9th June.. which appears unlikely.

  7. paul barker says:

    Why are Labour Centrists & The BBC so obsessed with UKIP ?
    I remember that last year I kept telling people thay UKIP would lose most of their seats come May 2017, in fact they lost all their seats, every last one.
    They havent updated their Membership figures since last November, at which point they were dropping like a stone. They probably have less members in The UK than The Libdems have in London.
    Since The Election was called their Polling average on Britain Elects has halved to below 6%.
    UKIP arent dead but they are utterly irrelevant.

  8. john P Reid says:

    Why are we obsessed, because those voters are now Tory voters ans before they were Ukip, they were labour voters,and the reason they’re ex labour voters mis because we(labour) are full of white middle clsss liberals telling the wo king class what morals to have, and why they’re thick,and they should get a education via a system we’ve told them to have so they can be more like us,and that’s why they dont vote for us

  9. Tafia says:

    john P Reid – well said.

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