In the midst of the drama occurring within the Conservative and Labour parties it would be easy to forget that UKIP too are searching for a new leader. Nigel Farage has stepped down (it appears for good this time) and the race is on to replace him. Furthermore deputy leader Paul Nuttall has confirmed he will not stand for the position opening the race to an even greater extent.
The next leader will face a difficult task in taking over from Nigel Farage. Farage was not everybody’s cup of tea but undoubtedly has been one of the most influential politicians in recent years and ultimately has been successfully in his main aim. He was a key driving force behind UKIP’s appeal and the effect his departure will have should not be underestimated.
UKIP as a party have achieved their main target, but can still continue to be relevant. Across the North of England UKIP have emerged as Labour’s biggest rivals and given Labour’s current crisis and the large Brexit vote in many Labour heartlands UKIP have fertile territory to work with. A negotiated Brexit settlement which places the free market above ending free movement would also give UKIP another selling point.
So who could be the figure to lead UKIP into this new era? Steven Woolfe MEP for the North East of England and UKIP spokesman on Migration and Financial Affairs appears clear favourite. Woolfe is mixed race and grew up in working class Manchester. He appears well placed to cement UKIP’s pivot to the North and would greatly improve UKIP’s image. His main rivals are likely to be Diane James and Suzanne Evans (though she remains suspended currently), although funder Arron Banks could yet enter the race.
UKIP as a party have an opportunity but they need to be astute. Firstly they must pick a leader who can appeal beyond their base and reach out to new supporters. Secondly they have to heal the wounds between the Farage wing of the party and the Carswell/Evans wing of the party and cannot tear themselves apart. If UKIP can achieve these tasks then they very much have a future in British politics. Don’t write off UKIP yet!
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – Spiked