UKIP MEP Diane James has caused anger amongst her colleagues by suggesting that there are people already preparing to take over from Nigel Farage in May.
The UKIP leader, who is a front runner to be elected to Westminster at the General Election for the constituency of South Thanet, has said that should he not succeed in his bid to become an MP he will step down as party chief.
Ms James’s comments came after a poll, commissioned last month by millionaire Aaron Banks, showed Mr Farage one point behind the Tory candidate and only one point ahead of Labour.
The party were accused of trying to ‘suppress’ the data by a Tory supporting newspaper,despite not being the polling company’s clients and consequently having no say over the data or its publication.
And they hit back at the figures, saying the methodology was flawed, pointing out that amongst the raw data Mr Farage was five points clear at the top.
Ms James, who came to national prominence by nearly taking Eastleigh from the Liberal Democrats in 2013, told BBC Radio 5 live, “Nigel stated categorically a few weeks ago that if he were not elected to the House of Commons, he would stand down. That’s a fact.”
“We have a very high calibre of individuals within UKIP. They are frequently on the BBC and other media outlets: Suzanne Evans, Patrick O’Flynn, Paul Nuttall. There are people there waiting,” she told Pienaar’s politics.
“When the leadership race is announced, I’m sure individuals will put their hats into the ring,” she added, immediately raising speculation that there were those in the party who did not think Mr Farage would succeed in the Kent constituency.
The party’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans dismissed the claim that she was waiting in the wings, telling Breitbart London, “I am 100 per cent behind Nigel.”
“I believe he will win his seat,” she said “but even if he doesn’t I’d like to see him stay on as leader.”
“Everything points to a win [in South Thanet],” she added.
And deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP said he “didn’t think it was an issue because Nigel is going to win South Thanet.”
“I’ve been travelling around the country so I have a good feeling for what is going on and this election is a completely different ball game to 2010 when we just had one constituency office in the country. The person we have to thank for this primarily is Nigel,” he said.
“On a personal level,” he added, “we’re friends and he’s the best communicator in British politics today.”
When asked if he wanted to be leader of UKIP Mr Nuttall replied, “No, not really.” But he also pointed out that the party was not a “one man band”, saying, “Nigel himself has actively encouraged other party members.”
But one Westminster candidate was critical of Ms James, saying her comment just helped those trying to destabilise the party and created speculation there were people who weren’t backing him or did not believe he would win.
The insider had been quizzed on their political ambitions following the poll but said they had “no ambitions” to take over although seemingly ruled out the candidates named by Ms James by saying “Whoever leads UKIP needs to be an MP.”
A UKIP spokesman dismissed the poll’s findings, saying it redistributed people who say they were not going to vote or would be away for polling day back to the Conservatives or Labour according to their 2010 results.
They also pointed out that the question people were asked was not “who would you vote for” but “thinking of your local MP” which they say created a false incumbency for Laura Sandys who is not standing this time round.
“We are delighted to see we are 5 points up in South Thanet and any claims to the contrary are wishful thinking and numerical trickery which only the establishment parties gain from” a spokesman said.
Mr Farage himself said he had no comment to make, saying “I’m busy campaigning.”
Mr O’Flynn, who has previously been named as a challenger to Mr Farage, did not respond to requests for a comment.