Extraordinary figures in England’s history? Past and present Ukip leaders Paul Nuttall (left) and Nigel Farage. Photograph: Ray Tang/REX/Shutterstock
Douglas Carswell, Ukip MP for Clacton, reckons his party under its new leader Paul Nuttall is poised to replace Labour as the party of radical change in the UK. “Let us leave Labour to its lobbyists, while we lead an anti-oligarch insurgency,” he wrote, summoning Clactonites to the barricades. “It is Ukip that must become the heirs to the Levellers.” An unlikely comparison, so let’s see if it stands up.
The Levellers were political radicals who played a central role in the English civil war in the 17th century. Ukip are political radicals who played a central role in provoking the British civil war currently raging over Brexit.
The Levellers thought things started to go wrong in England in 1066, when a foreign power destroyed the Anglo-Saxon arcadia and imposed feudalism. The Faragists have a similar worldview: the glory that was Caterham c1952 was ruined by accession to the EU.
The Levellers believed God was the supreme authority and that man’s natural rights emanated from his law. Ukip, too, puts great emphasis on God, or Nigel as he is referred to by its members.
The Levellers wore green ribbons on their clothes and sprigs of rosemary in their hats. Ukip’s leaders wear purple ties and blue blazers. Farage occasionally sports a homburg, without herbal accessories.
“Leveller” was originally a pejorative term directed at rebels who broke down (or levelled) hedges in protest against the enclosure of common land. Ukip, too, has a passionate interest in hedging, and has worked hard to secure financial support from hedge funds.
The Levellers wanted a written constitution – they drafted one in a manifesto called An Agreement of the People – and many of their members were republicans. Ukip talks a great deal about the “will of the people”, but has yet to come out for either a written constitution or the removal of the Queen.
Levellers leader John Lilburne (AKA Freeborn John) was one of the most extraordinary figures in English history. It is too early for historians to pass judgment on Paul Nuttall.
Ukip members are very keen on golf, and a Ukip golfing umbrella is available at just £27 (or two for £50). There is no record of the Levellers playing golf.
The Levellers did not, as is often suggested, support common ownership, and were outflanked on the left by the Diggers, or True Levellers, as they were originally called. If Ukip really are modern-day Levellers, perhaps Labour under Corbyn are reborn Diggers, eager to create a nation of allotment holders. In reality, the Levellers were classical liberals, emphasising individual rights, rather than nationalists or socialists.
Rock band the Levellers, named after their 17th-century forerunners, scored a huge hit at Glastonbury in 1994. Electro-funk band the Ukippers will no doubt make a similarly sensational appearance a couple of centuries from now.