The Cable

UKIP Has a New Leader, and He’s Already Looking to Replace Labour

Nigel Farage's successor has big plans for the party that brought us Brexit.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Paul Nuttall (L) is congratulated by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage after being named as the new party leader on November 28, 2016 in London, England. The previous leader, Diane James, held the position for 18 days before resigning and has since left the party altogether. Another contender for leadership, Steven Woolfe MEP, has also quit the party after a violent altercation with a colleague. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

laSome of you probably thought that the far-right, anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, would just curl up in a corner now that the people of the United Kingdom voted for Brexit and independence from the European Union.

Some of you were wrong.

On Monday, UKIP, far from deciding that it has served its purpose, picked Paul Nuttall, a member of the European Parliament, to be its new leader. He will replace Nigel Farage, who stepped down from party leadership after the Brexit vote, saying, “I want my life back,” but stepped back up as interim leader because his replacement quit after 18 days on the job.

Of his future in UKIP, Farage, who argued that Brexit brought about Donald Trump’s upset victory in the American presidential election mere months later, said, “Am I going to be a backseat driver? No. Will I support the leader of Ukip if they ask me to help? Yes.”

And what does that new leader of UKIP want? Nothing less than to replace one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom.

“My ambition is not insignificant,” Nuttall said in a speech on Monday. “I want to replace the Labour party and make UKIP the patriotic voice of working people.”

The United Kingdom has long had a multi-party parliamentary system, with, traditionally, three parties — two main competitors and one strong third party — at its core. But Nuttall is not content to replace the Liberal Democrats (or the Scottish National Party, which, at present, is actually the third most represented party in parliament). He wants to propel his party to being one of the two main players.

As politics, the idea echoes what’s taking place on this side of the pond. In the aftermath of Trump’s win — fueled by white, working-class votes in the Rust Belt — the Democratic Party has wracked its brains to figure out how to reclaim the party’s mantle as champion of the working class. Once the preserve of less-educated voters, Democrats have become the home for better-off, better-educated cosmopolitan types — much like Labour has become, UKIP says.

Nuttall had previously said that current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is more interested in “dinner party” issues like climate change than those that concern the working class, like criminal sentences that “mean what they say,” “firm controls” on immigration, and putting British workers “at the top” (topics and language that suggest Nuttall is speaking specifically of the white working class).

For his part, Corbyn, who is further left than many in his party, is planning to send his shadow foreign secretary to attend former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s funeral.

The conservative Tory party, meanwhile, already saw how difficult it can be to contain UKIP — not unlike the way in which the Grand Old Party establishment has found it difficult to deal with Trump and his supporters over the past several months. The Brexit referendum was proposed by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron as a way to quell concern from his own party members that they might lose to UKIP. Cameron’s successor, Prime Minister Theresa May, is now charged with carrying out her country’s departure from the European Union.

Update, Nov. 28, 2016: This post originally said that Corbyn himself was planning to attend Castro’s funeral. It has since been made known that he would instead be represented by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.

Photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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