As reported in my first article for NMC Europe, many of the rank and file UK Independence Party politicians spoke of their excitement at the prospect of Diane James’s leadership at its autumn conference in Bournemouth. 18 days have passed, and she has resigned, citing “personal and professional reasons”. It is yet another episode in the UKIP soap-opera, and the question must be asked: where does the party go from here exactly?
Even to its most sympathetic of supporters, such as myself and NMC Europe Editor, Sebastian Cheek, it may be said that UKIP is losing its credibility rapidly and regaining it will be difficult, especially as the Conservative Party’s conference this week has been a platform for them to present encouraging policies for a Brexit Britain, most of which have been UKIP policies for many years. All is not lost though, but its strategy must be simple.
A swift, short and sweet leadership contest is a must. The last leadership contest began on July 11th, and culminated with James’s election to the position on September 16th. It was farcical, drawn-out and, at times, a slugfest. Although criticised by some, James wisely decided against appearing at any of the hustings – instead choosing to conduct more intimate Q&A sessions alone – and refused to be part of a cringeworthy ‘UKIP’s Got Talent’ pastiche video that was uploaded on YouTube. The possible candidates should state their intentions to run, outline their vision and plans for the future of the party, be in place for one or two hustings then leave it to the members to make their decision. In the current state of British politics, the Conservative Party could call a snap general election and coast to an easy win. Time is of the essence, and UKIP has very little essence left.
So that begs the question – who should be leader? The outstanding candidate is Steven Woolfe MEP, the party’s Immigration and Financial Affairs spokesman. Despite confirmation on Wednesday that Woolfe was negotiating to join the Conservatives over the weekend (a bizarre move considering the Tories have implemented poor foreign policy since taking office in 2010 in their coalition with the Liberal Democrats), Woolfe’s working-class background and talent at public speaking (no doubt honed from his lawyer background) makes him Nigel Farage’s natural successor. Blocked by the party’s National Executive Committee (or the ‘Party Poopers’, as I prefer to dub them) from running last time, Woolfe was initially silent on running – on early Wednesday morning his office declined to comment to NMC Europe regarding the matter – but by late afternoon he threw his hat in the ring.
Another confirmed candidate is Raheem Kassam, a former UKIP senior adviser and currently the editor-in-chief of Breitbart London. On Tuesday night, Kassam conducted a livestream on Facebook and wanted to gauge reactions from viewers before stating his intentions. He has now confirmed his entrance into the contest with a campaign website – MakeUKIPGreatAgain.com – which promises a leadership direction that keeps in touch with that of Farage’s. Kassam is widely-regarded as a divisive figure within the party, but his no-nonsense approach might well be the refreshing option in a disunited UKIP. Kassam has also not ruled-out the possibility of running alongside Woolfe in a joint ticket.
Paul Nuttall MEP, Mr Farage’s former Deputy Leader, has made no statement regarding Ms James’s resignation, nor his intentions to replace her or not. Mr Hamilton believes that under the UKIP constitution, Mr Nuttall is the current interim leader, although it’s believed that Mr Farage is still leader of the party as Ms James did not sufficiently fill-out paperwork required to confirm herself as leader.
After speaking to a source close to Jonathan Arnott MEP last night, it was unclear whether the former school teacher was going to run. Arnott originally stood in the previous contest, but dropped out, citing his belief that he would not beat Ms James. Today, he is not ruling out the possibility of running again, tweeting that he will not stand provided that Nuttall does.
Neil Hamilton AM has ruled himself out of the running, but is thought to have the support of the NEC to be the interim leader. Today, Mr Farage described the possibility a UKIP led by Mr Hamilton as a “horror-story”. Mr Hamilton claims his role as UKIP Leader in the Welsh Assembly already takes up too much of his time to lead the party as well.
Suzanne Evans, regarded by those in the ‘Faragista’ faction of the party as having more faces than Big Ben, Evans was suspended by the party, but the suspension has recently lapsed, leaving her open to run as leader. In a short-lived legal action against her suspension, Ms Evans claimed that Mr Farage beats his wife, so it would be fair to say support for her would be sparse from large portions of the party. Known to dislike Mr Kassam (who exposed the slanderous claims regarding Mr Farage in her legal action), so any potential leadership hustings involving the two has potential to be explosive.
Douglas Carswell MP’s name has been touted, but ruled himself out of the running on the previous occasion. Carswell has been synonymous with his public spats with Farage since the 2015 General Election, where he emerged as the party’s only Westminster MP. Regarded as remaining close to Ms Evans in terms of opinion on the party’s direction, Mr Carswell is also deeply unpopular with Mr Kassam and other senior pro-Farage members.
Peter Whittle LAM is a very popular potential candidate within the party. Whittle stood for UKIP at this year’s London Mayoral election, and now sits on the London Assembly for UKIP alongside David Kurten LAM. He previously supported Mr Woolfe’s candidacy before he was forced to withdraw from the contest.
Nathan Gill MEP was Mr Woolfe’s running mate during his failed attempt to run last time. As well as balancing his role as Wales’s MEP for the party, Gill was one of six Welsh Assembly members for UKIP, as well as being the party’s Welsh Leader, but resigned and now sits there as an independent following a rift with Mr Hamilton. Ms James caused sensation by replacing Mr Hamilton with Mr Gill on the party conference agenda last month, but last week visited the Welsh Assembly, during which she informed the media that Mr Hamilton was now the party’s Welsh Leader and that Mr Gill ought to concentrate on his duties as an MEP. Mr Gill has expressed his disappointment as Ms James’s decision to resign, but has not said whether he will or will not stand in the leadership contest.
Arron Banks, the party’s top financial backer, has remained coy on whether he will run, but it’s thought that the millionaire will not.
Two of the four previous contest candidates – Bill Etheridge and Elizabeth Jones – are not ruling-out standing again. The other two candidates – Lisa Duffy and Phillip Broughton – have so far been silent.
In an interview with Sky News where he formally announced his intention to stand as leader, Mr Woolfe hinted that there are major reforms in order should he be elected, particularly with the NEC, who many on the Farage side of the party, including donor Mr Banks, believe sympathise with Mr Hamilton and Mr Carswell. Kassam made similar statements in his livestream last night.
What has been difficult since Ms James’s resignation is finding people connected to the party to make early comments. I did, however, speak to Emmett Jenner, a long-time member of the party who has stood as a candidate on many occasions in general elections. He said that he was happy with Ms James being the party leader, but added: ‘If she wasn’t comfortable in the role then I wouldn’t have wanted her to continue against her will. It would have been unfair to force her to carry on.’ Mr Jenner says he sees no cause for concern in terms of the party’s future, saying: ‘Given the very short 18-day tenure within the 25 years of party history, it’s a very short time during which not much happened. It’s a false start, and we have to get everyone back to the start line and reload the starting gun on the next part of UKIP history.’ Mr Jenner said in regards to his preferred candidate as leader: ‘Steven Woolfe is an extremely well-liked member of the party and he has my vote unless something dramatic happens.’
I ended that debut article asking if we were seeing the new dawn for UKIP or the beginning of its end. The forthcoming leadership election and its outcome will give us the answer. Whoever the chosen one will be, they have the task of ensuring the British government live-up to their promises, as well as a chance of receiving the baton from Nigel Farage and running with it into a future that is not only bright and prosperous for the UK, but also for the UK Independence Party.
Jack Smith is a contributor for NMC Europe and covers all things relating to UKIP and other events in The UK. You can contact Jack through his email. Jack@NewMediaCentral.net