It was always going to be tough taking on the job of UKIP leader. The favourite had quit the party after a controversial fracas with a fellow MEP. The previous winner had quit the party after a few days in the job. And even without that sorry backdrop, Paul Nuttall would still have to fight to escape the shadow of Nigel Farage, UKIP’s dominant figure for almost two decades.
Farage could have made it easier for him. He was, after all, going to “get his life back” – spending some time with his family, indulging in a spot of fishing, maybe start making some military history documentaries. But it seems the Generalissimo of the People’s Army is struggling to adjust to retirement. He made no secret of holding out hope of a job with the Trump administration – and perhaps still does. He’s been dismissive of the idea of a seat in the House of Lords, though many of his fans (and this site) think that he deserves one. Then there was the possibility that he might lead Arron Banks’s new revolutionary “movement” – though Banks’s recent comment that he was too “cautious” suggests he might not end up with that gig either.
In the meantime, he’s continued to pop up in the media and tweet regularly. It’s hardly helpful to Nuttall – he has a limited time to establish his name, face and identity in the minds of the electorate, but his more famous predecessor keeps barging into the limelight. It’s no surprise that Farage should get more media coverage – he’s famous, after all – but he isn’t exactly giving Nuttall any breathing room. For example, the UKIP leader’s comment last night about the new ambassador to the EU was swamped by reports of what Farage had to say on the matter. It looks like “getting my life back” might mean giving up the pressures of leadership, but doesn’t seem to involve letting the new leader get on with establishing himself in the job.
Nor is it going to get any easier for Nuttall. We now learn that Farage is taking on a broadcasting gig with LBC – meaning there’ll be even more of his commentary in the papers, and even less space for UKIP’s actual leader.
With the party’s future in doubt, and a crucial by-election on the way, it’s a difficult problem for Nuttall to escape. After all, he can’t publicly criticise the man his members revere.