Thursday’s shocking incident in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which saw UK Independence Party MEP Steven Woolfe assaulted and requiring hospital treatment, further underlines the disunity within the party. For its members and supporters, it is a deeply concerning time regarding its future and something drastic needs to be done in order for it to be placed on the right track back towards its goal of ensuring Britain enjoys a prosperous future as the nation prepares to leave the European Union.
The Sun newspaper has landed the exclusive with Mr Woolfe, showing him smiling and giving a thumbs-up from his hospital bed whilst being visited by interim leader Nigel Farage MEP. In the interview, Mr Woolfe claimed he was punched by fellow MEP and UKIP Defence Spokesman Mike Hookem, as was widely-reported throughout the day, saying: “Mike came at me and landed a blow. He was obviously very angry and lost his temper. I wasn’t bruising for a scrap. I asked to deal with the matter outside the room because it was upsetting everybody in our meeting. Mike clearly read that totally the wrong way. The door frame took the biggest hit after I was shoved into it. I knew I’d taken a whack and was pretty shaken.” Mr Hookem has reportedly said: “I did not hit Steven nor did I see him hit his head.” It’s believed that Mr Hookem is now back in Britain. Mr Woolfe said he was “groggy but awake”. Early reports left many fearing the worst for the North West MEP, with Mr Farage himself saying: “a few of us thought, is he actually going to make it?”
It leaves the future of the party doubt, and it will require a strong leadership to ensure a united-front is created and for UKIP to reintegrate itself amongst the political elite as it was striving towards after their 2014 European Election success.
If Mr Woolfe makes a full and complete recovery and quickly, and decides to carry-on with his leadership candidacy, he is still the greatest chance UKIP has of being a relevant and successful party. In an interview with Sky News on Wednesday in which he formally stated his intention to stand as leader, Mr Woolfe hinted at major reform which would spell danger for the party’s National Executive Committee. The NEC blocked Mr Woolfe’s previous attempt and in the opinion of several figures within UKIP believe that they are at the beck-and-call of the party’s solitary MP, Douglas Carswell, and former Conservative MP and UKIP Welsh Leader Neil Hamilton AM, both of whom have been involved in public and high-profile spats with Mr Farage. Mr Hamilton displayed a lack of political diplomacy when appearing on BBC News when Mr Woolfe’s condition was still reported thought be “serious” and “life-threatening”, saying that Mr Woolfe “picked a fight and came off worst”. The party’s biggest financial backer, Arron Banks, compared the NEC to “circus clowns” and that he will leave the party if they aren’t suspended and if Mr Carswell and Mr Hamilton – who he referred to as an “odious toad” on his Twitter page – aren’t removed then he will leave the party altogether.
Unfortunately for UKIP, in order to create peace, a war must be won initially against those who many believe have caused the division. If Mr Woolfe stands and wins, it’s his duty to create unity, and it will be gained by removing Mr Carswell and Mr Hamilton swiftly, and ordering a must-needed reform to the NEC. When speaking to NMC Europe at the UKIP party conference in Bournemouth on September 16th, Mr Woolfe claimed that: “if anyone is causing disunity, then it is Neil”, in reference to Mr Hamilton courting media attention after being removed by Ms James from the conference agenda, and also stated that Mr Farage “should be placed as one of the most important politicians [in history]”, so it’s clear which faction he stands in. Widely-popular in the party, Mr Woolfe would be expected to win the leadership contest, and in the words of Mr Banks yesterday, “by a large margin”.
If Woolfe decides to withdraw in the wake of this incident, then many will view the future of UKIP lay in the hands of Raheem Kassam, Mr Farage’s former senior advisor and editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, who also has formally entered the race. In a livestream on his Facebook on Tuesday night, he referred to the garbage disposal unit in his kitchen sink as a metaphor as where he will put the NEC. Mr Kassam is very much a love-him-or-loathe-him figure within the party, but there is no doubt that his no-nonsense approach will be a refreshing alternative compared to others who may choose to stand. Mr Kassam, a friend of Mr Woolfe, cancelled an appearance on BBC’s Daily Politics out of respect.
The maligned NEC will meet on October 17th to discuss the formalities for the contest to find Ms James’s replacement.