Hold on tight: the UKIP leadership race is set to be potentially the most unconventional held by any party in living memory.
As a party that largely formed around the hard-work and determination of one man in Nigel Farage, the subsequent contest to replace him as leader was always going to be something of a key moment. Yet the format and conditions make it even more uncertain. This truly will be a grassroots blood sport.
Consider first the fact that the barriers to entry for this contest are so very low. Obviously there is no real domestic parliamentary element to the race so to stand one requires only a £5,000 deposit along with fifty signatures accumulated from ten branches or more.
That opens this contest up to well-known councillors with regional name value. One early contender for the race is rumoured to be Lisa Duffy for instance, who is well-known in Cambridgeshire alongside partner Peter Reeve who is the party’s local government spokesman. Expect to see a fair few councillors throw their hats in the ring, majoring on their ability to be elected domestically on local issues.
It doesn’t end there though. There is no run-off in this contest and that means in theory the winning candidate could become the new UKIP leader with a minority of the vote as low as 30 or perhaps even 20 per cent depending on the number of candidates.
Given the traditional set-up of the party has been based around the soon-to-be-redundant Members of the European Parliament, regional bloc votes will matter. Now that Paul Nuttall MEP has ruled himself out of the race for instance, Steven Woolfe MEP will be sure to soak up a plenty of the votes from the North West of England if he stands as I believe he will.
As to just who will stand, a ruling by the National Executive Committee (NEC) last night will mean that a five-year minimum membership term has been put in place. In a young party such as UKIP that has experienced rapid growth this is massively significant.
It would rule out for instance London Assembly Members Peter Whittle and David Kurten, who had both mulled the idea of standing. One wonders if Neil Hamilton, who has allies on the NEC and has been a long-time UKIP member, is now considering a tilt at the top job.
Suzanne Evans would also would not meet the five-year term even if her suspension was lifted and it would also mean the likes of Arron Banks and Raheem Kassam, of this parish, couldn’t stand either.
So this race is wide open and truly a wild west shoot out unlike much we’ve ever seen come before. Huge feet to fill, a highly volatile field and format and just a few short months until the new Leader is elected on September 15th. Just who will that next leader be? At this stage, your guess is as good as mine.