Steven Woolfe has been barred from standing for Ukip leader. The party’s national executive committee has ruled that he didn’t submit his nomination papers in time and so is ineligible.
Woolfe’s exclusion from the race is a major blow for Ukip donor, and Leave.EU founder, Arron Banks who had thrown his weight behind Woolfe. Woolfe also had the support of several of those closest to Nigel Farage. This group will not take Woolfe’s exclusion lying down, and will try and find a way to stop the contest or somehow get his name onto the ballot. I wouldn’t even rule out a split if the NEC won’t back down; Banks has talked in the past about creating a new party.
If the leadership contest does go ahead, the MEP Diane James will be the favourite. She came a strong second in the Eastleigh by-election and is widely respected in the party. However, she is a very southern figure and, perhaps, not best suited to taking the fight to Labour in the north, which is where Ukip’s big electoral opportunity is.
This leadership contest is turning into farce. Two of the best known figures in Ukip apart from Farage—Woolfe and Suzanne Evans—have been kept off the ballot by procedural ruses. This all suggests that Ukip can’t drop the back-biting and the factionalism. Ukip has a real electoral opportunity at the moment, but if this leadership contest is anything to go by, it will be incapable of seizing it.