After 3 resignations, 9 years and 1 seat, Nigel Farage’s tenure as UKIP leader is finally over. To his credit, he has built the party into one of the UK’s biggest and most important as well as achieving his ‘political ambition’ of steering Britain into leaving the EU. However, he also leaves behind a party that is divided, at risk of having no purpose and hated by so many.
On Friday it was confirmed that he would be replaced by MEP and former co-party chairman Diane James. James beat 4 other candidates, winning a huge 46% of the vote. Her closest rival, Lisa Duffy, won just 25%. The party is not nearly as united as it seems though. Before the leadership contest started, MEP Steven Woolfe was looking like the clear favourite to win. Unfortunately for him and his supporters, he didn’t even make the ballot due to submitting his application 17 minutes late (incompetent or what!).
Encouraging unity throughout the party is seen by most sane people as the normal thing to do following a divisive leadership election. James did not do this. In fact, her first act as UKIP leader was to ban leadership challenger Neil Hamilton from speaking at the conference as was planned. This has left none in doubt that she will be bold enough to make radical decisions and put her own spin on things.
So what will the party look like under her? It is expected that she will attempt to woo dissatisfied Labour voters in the North, as Farage has tried to do, whilst attempting to increase popularity in the South (where she is from). Don’t expect UKIP to shift to the left though; James has always taken an equally hard-line approach on immigration as well as home affairs.
Besides unity, James has many other problems to think of. A new-look Conservative party under Theresa May looks set to steal voters away with policies like encouraging the re-introduction of grammar schools – in the last week 2 major UKIP figures have already defected to the Tories. Also, there is the ongoing question of what UKIP’s role in politics is going to be following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
For me though, the biggest thing on James’ mind should be Nigel Farage. His charisma and ability to appeal and empathise with both the working classes (people who are bored with Labour) and the middle classes (those who have found the Tories a bit useless with things like immigration) has been a winning formula. Farage has almost single-handedly built UKIP into the party it is today.
And that is Diane James’ biggest problem: she has neither the charisma nor the ability to make people identify with her. All I can see happening is UKIP slowly declining and demising. Expect her to resign within 2 years and either Farage (again!) or Woolfe taking over.