Following Steven Woolfe’s decision to quit Ukip, the party’s prospects don’t look good. Woolfe – who was the frontrunner in Ukip’s leadership contest – said the party was in a ‘death spiral’. And on the basis of a tumultuous summer involving Diane James’s short-lived 18-day reign, a search for meaning after Brexit and that famous ‘altercation’ between Ukip MEPs, it’s hard to disagree. But amidst this turmoil, the hunt for a new leader to replace Nigel Farage is on. So who’s who in the party’s leadership contest?
Suzanne Evans: Ukip’s former deputy chairwoman was barred from standing in the summer’s leadership contest as a result of her suspension from the party. This time around, the party’s NEC has ruled Evans will be allowed to run as a candidate: good news for a party which desperately needs to get its act together and try and broaden its appeal. Evans has vowed to make the party less ‘toxic’ and has previously called on Ukip to ‘break free of its hard-right image and set itself firmly in the common sense centre-ground’: words which could spell trouble for Labour if she’s able to act on them. A former journalist, Evans was first touted as a possible replacement to Farage after she put together Ukip’s manifesto at the 2015 election. It called for an Australian-style points system for migrants and the negotiation of a trading deal with the EU after what was then the hypothetical prospect of leaving the EU. Both policies could offer some insight into how Evans, if she wins the leadership race, may try and hold Theresa May’s feet to the fire in her Brexit negotiations.
Paul Nuttall: A Ukip MEP since 2009, Nuttall has said he is the ‘unity candidate’ able to finally bring the party together. He said the party was ‘looking over the edge of a political cliff and it will either step off or step back. I want to be the candidate who will tell us to come backwards.’ So if Ukip voters decide to follow Nuttall’s path, what will the party look like? He wants to bring back the death penalty for child killers; and has also said he thinks parts of the NHS should be privatised, writing on his website that the very existence of the National Health Service stifles competition. Don’t be fooled by these headline policies though, as Nuttall could easily be a candidate to bring the fight to Labour. The 39-year-old has said Labour’s current position offers an opportunity for Ukip to become the ‘patriotic voice of the working class’. As the party’s MEP for the north west of England, Nuttall could help Ukip snatch disaffected Labour voters away from Corbyn.
Peter Whittle: Whittle was one of the first out the blocks to formally declare his intention to run. So who is he? Another former journalist, Whittle is Ukip’s group leader on the London assembly and has been the party’s culture spokesman for several years. He also ran in this summer’s mayoral election in the capital, but only managed to pick up a disappointing 3.6 per cent of the vote. But while he has some (albeit small) profile in London, it’s likely Whittle might struggle more than others in appealing to voters outside the capital. That being said, Whittle has made it clear that a Ukip under his leadership would attempt to go after those Labour voters who were fed up with Corbyn, with the 55-year-old making it clear that he thought Labour was ‘dripping with contempt’ for its core voters in the north.
David Coburn is a loyal follower of Farage and quoted the Ukip leader’s book title on the Today programme when he said the party was ‘very much a purple revolution’. Coburn – leader of Ukip in Scotland – hasn’t said one way or the other whether he plans to run, but has made it clear he thinks Ukip still has a future in the wake of Brexit. So what is Ukip’s purpose now that we’ve got a PM apparently determined to drive through Brexit? Coburn suggested Ukip embodied a ‘different way of running things’ in contrast to the ‘pashmina politicians’ he said were rife in other parties. Coburn, perhaps best known for his gaffes – such as accusing the BBC of bias over a debate held on ITV – has also vowed to ‘make sure she (May) walks the plank on Brexit’.
If the frontrunners are the ‘change’ candidates hoping to broaden Ukip’s appeal, Lisa Duffy is the one promising business as usual. Duffy has already set out a hardline pledge in the form of a ban on Muslim schools – a policy that may go down well with some Ukip voters but is less likely to win them voters put off by some of the rhetoric to emerge from the party in the past. Duffy, a councillor in Cambridge, also promises a tough stance on criminals – saying short sentences are no good.
David Kurten points to Brussels and political correctness as the forces he wants to battle against if he becomes Ukip leader. Kurten is a relative newcomer on the Ukip scene, having only been elected as one of the party’s candidates on the London Assembly in May this year. The former chemistry teacher says the party appealed to him because of how it was able to challenge the ‘political elites in Westminster’. His main policies are ensuring ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ditching the Human Rights Act and ‘end(ing) benefits, welfare and free healthcare’ for those from abroad who aren’t ‘genuine refugees’.
Andrew Beadle also wants to replace Nigel Farage at the top of the Ukip tree. Beadle stood as Ukip’s parliamentary candidate in Bermondsey at the last general election where he came fourth. The former Tory council candidate describes himself as a ‘free thinker’ and a ‘believer in Syncretic politics’.
John Rees-Evans grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2014 when he claimed a ‘gay donkey’ tried to rape his horse. Now, two years on, he’s back. He announced his intention to stand as Ukip leader in an interview in which he said sorry for his past gaffe, dismissing it as ‘playful banter with a mischievous activist’. Rees-Evans said Ukip is a ‘party of fighters’ and he was the one to take the reins.