BOLTON, England (Reuters) - If food is the way to a man’s heart, cutting tax on Britain’s much-loved fish and chips is the way Paul Nuttall, leader of the anti-EU UKIP party, hopes to win over the country’s voters.
On the sidelines of mainstream British politics for years over what many derided as its overt populism, the UK Independence Party is keen to capitalise on its successful campaign to leave the European Union and garner wider appeal.
While sticking to its message that it will hold Prime Minister Theresa May to her pledge to lead Britain out of the bloc, UKIP used a conference to try to capture the hearts of working class voters by building on an increasing distrust of the ‘establishment’ sweeping much of the Western world.
“We want to see a fair deal for working families because Brexit allows us for the first time to do away with VAT (value added tax) in many areas,” Nuttall said to applause in a football stadium in the northern English town of Bolton on Friday.
He told a boisterous crowd that he would remove tax on energy bills, female sanitary products and hot takeaway food, so “we can all return to the days when things were cheap as chips”.
Nuttall became leader last year during a period of party turbulence when UKIP’s former head, Nigel Farage, stood down after Britain voted to leave the EU and his immediate successor, Diane James, quit after only 18 days in the job.
Nuttall said would clamp down on corporate tax avoidance and protect the country’s public health service.
UKIP supporter Stuart Love said Nuttall was showing what post-Brexit Britain could be. “By saving money from the EU, we can start taking VAT off,” he smiled, still standing after giving the UKIP leader a lengthy standing ovation.
But the man who is fighting to lay his claim to a party long defined by Farage has some way to go to boost UKIP’s presence in parliament, where it has one lawmaker.
His first hurdle is a local election next week in the central English city of Stoke, where Nutall is standing as UKIP’s parliamentary candidate. Almost 70 percent of people voted for Brexit in the constituency, but it has elected a Labour lawmaker since its creation in 1950.
Under fire for publishing statements on his website which he later said were not true, Nuttall said it was his fault for not fact-checking the page and received shouts of support and applause when he asked UKIP members whether they backed him.
He must also navigate power struggles in his own party, which has long been associated with the vocal Farage, who appealed to the party to learn from U.S. President Donald Trump -- someone, he suggested, he knew well.
“UKIP is a radical party or it is nothing,” Farage said to cheers, calling on members not to try to become mainstream.
“All of that comes of a head next Thursday in Stoke and I don’t think anybody for one moment can underplay how important, how fundamental that by-election is for the futures of both the Labour party and indeed of UKIP too ... It matters, and it matters hugely.”
Editing by Dominic Evans