This has to be one of the oddest stories from the world of politics ever. It began with UKIP’s leader resigning after just 18 days in office and ended with the favourite to replace her in hospital. I’ve compiled a timeline of what happened, followed by a few thoughts on what this means for UKIP.
4th July – Nigel Farage announces that he will resign as UKIP’s leader with a replacement to be announced at the upcoming party conference.
31st July – Favourite to win the race to succeed Farage, MEP Steven Woolfe, is barred from competing in the leadership election due to submitting his application 20 minutes late.
16th September – Diane James is announced as UKIP’s new leader, winning almost twice as many votes as her nearest rival.
4th October – After just 18 days James resigns as leader, sighting ‘personal and professional’ reasons (although it is thought that being spat at earlier in the week had an influence in her decision!). Farage is announced caretaker leader.
5th October – Woolfe says that he will run again for UKIP leadership.
6th October – After what is described as an ‘altercation’ with a fellow UKIP MEP, Woolfe collapses in the European Parliament. He is later said to be in a ‘critical condition’ but is now thought to be OK.
7th October – More details emerge. The person who allegedly punched him is named as Mike Hookem, the party’s defence spokesman. Hookem says they got into a ‘scuffle’ but no punches were thrown.
One thing is clear from the saga: this is really not what UKIP needs right now. It was bad enough that the party’s new leader (who had a huge task uniting the party post-Farage) resigned; the fact that two senior figures from the same party got into a fight is extremely, extremely embarrassing for UKIP.
However, providing that Woolfe is OK, James’ resignation could prove to be a gift for the party. Woolfe was, in my mind, the only candidate with the charisma to live up to Farage. If he is elected, it could do UKIP good in the long term. However, there needs to be a proper enquiry into the incident in order to re-assure voters that UKIP is a responsible party.
Although James may have just given the party a lifeline, Hookem has given UKIP another problem to deal with. And trust me: with the UK leaving the EU and the party fighting to stay relevant, UKIP has a huge task ahead of it, even more so now.
Update on 17/10/16: Today Steven Woolfe quit UKIP. He said that the party is on a ‘death spiral’ and that he will become an independent MEP. UKIP’s leaders are currently meeting to decide how to proceed with the leadership election: This is a disaster for UKIP.