He may have been named 2014 Briton of the Year by one of his biggest enemies but there’s an even bigger battle ahead for Nigel Farage in 2015. Aside from the General Election where his party stands to improve on its two MPs on the green benches, rumours abound that it will be the last major election the veteran campaigner and candidate will lead the self styled ‘People’s Army’.
And who could blame him for stepping down on a high note after two decades mostly spent in the political wilderness, being subject to abuse included repeated – and ridiculous – calls of being a racist, a lightweight, evading tax (the Mirror never did apologise for accusing him of a crime) and a colourful private life?
And given the backstabbing and political squabbles going on behind the scenes, his troops are already fighting for position in a post Farage era and, of course, the coveted position of Leader.
It’s not just something political commentators are looking forward to: Ladbrokes, the most accurate political bookmakers on UKIP, have had a book running for quite some time and the changing positions and odds demonstrate how there is no clear successor to the man who has taken UKIP into the history books.
For years it was seen as a rite of passage for Paul Nuttall, UKIP’s Deputy Leader and MEP since 2009 who has been instrumental in making the party a viable option for disillusioned Labour voters. But he has slipped to joint second on the list behind new MP Douglas Carswell who is considered a 3-1 bet on winning the hearts and minds of the notoriously grumbling party membership. Senior party figures are certainly hoping that it’s Carswell who wins the crown for his intelligence and hard work.
Nuttall is joint on 6-1 with fellow MEP and heroine of the Eastleigh by election, Diane James. Since those days, however, she has rather slunk into the background as she becomes one of only a number of high profile women not least eloquent, polished Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans who looks a good outsider bet at 13-1. She might not be an MEP, instead preferring to focus on the Constituency of Shrewsbury and Atcham she has been selected to fight, but ever since an outstanding live interview from the Torquay spring conference on the Daily Politics, she’s viewed as a sharp cookie and a safe pair of hands.
One person who won’t be too impressed with how Ladbrokes view his chances is the former blue eyed boy Patrick O’Flynn who, since becoming an MEP, has angered both the leader, colleagues and members alike with his unapproved tax policies and left leaning ideology; although he did graduate from the same Cambridge college as Keynes so perhaps this should have come as no surprise. His 9-1 odds indicate that in the few months since being elected, he has been pretty accident prone with the ‘wag tax’ allegedly slipped into his conference speech at the last minute to avoid being scrutinised like all the other speeches were and a most unseemly public spat on twitter with a member of the party over turnover tax who, unlike O’Flynn, has a financial services qualification.
He’s been overtaken by Steven Woolfe at 7-1, the City lawyer turned MEP for the North West Region who has already made a significant impression amongst the media for his impressive performances and professional attitude in his brief covering migration – and financial services for which he significantly out qualified the official economics spokesman O’Flynn. He also secured devotion from many a party member after being heckled at the London conference, which was meant to address the accusations of racism, by a white middle class leftie who called him a “fake”, a “coconut” and an “Uncle Tom” in reference to his mixed race ethnicity. Openly emotional, he responded saying “A five-year-old child having to go home and tell his mum he was called a nigger all day at school – that’s not a fake.”
The second Tory defection to UKIP Mark Reckless who was also such a secret that many senior party officials were expecting Philip Hollobone or David Nuttall to walk out on stage, is the first in double figures at 11-1. This is no doubt a reference to his less secure seat in Rochester and Strood which he won in the November by election despite the Tories throwing the ‘kitchen sink’ at it. But it’s not traditional UKIP territory: it’s nowhere near the seaside for a start and he will have a harder job holding that seat than the charming brainbox that is Douglas Carswell will in Clacton.
The others on the list are an mixed bunch: MEPs and candidates in target Westminster seats, like Tim Aker, Margot Parker and Robin Hunter-Clarke. I’m sure they would hold their hands up and say they don’t have any interest in flinging their millinery in the ring but nevertheless, it must amuse them to see they are considered more leadership material than former Tory Minister Neil Hamilton, who lags at 26-1. And even Tory MEP Dan Hannan is above him by almost ten points, at 17-1: not bad for a politician from a different political party and interestingly, one who has dropped from 66-1 in the Spring. Do they know something we don’t?
Last of the credible runners and riders is, appropriately, expert equestrian Jane Collins, MEP for the Yorkshire and the Humber who battled breast cancer and campaigned part of the time in a wig after her chemotherapy treatment took its toll on her hair follicles. 26-1 in horse racing terms would seem like a good price for an each way or a place bet, but of course in political leadership battles the prizes for coming second are much worse than for coming third – or not standing at all. It’s hard to see who die-hard Farage supporters like Collins and Parker would back. They are not the kind of people to back a woman for the sake of her being a woman and, despite Farage’s belief that the next leader will be female, there is still everything to play for.
After being reelected leader back in November (yes, you did miss it and for a very good reason – it was less high profile than ball breaking Home Secretary Theresa May chipping her nail polish, it was such a formality) Farage still has to resign for this to be more than a moot point.
But it’s worth musing over on the first day of the year, as we nurse our hangovers and wonder whether a ‘dry January’ might not be such a bad idea.