LONDON, United Kingdom – Thursday saw the final hustings in the bitter contest to be the next leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), with candidates split on whether to confront the so-called “disloyalty” and factionalism which left the clear favourite to succeed Nigel Farage, Steven Woolfe, excluded from the competition.
Bill Etheridge, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the West Midlands, said UKIP was like “lions lead by donkeys” and one of the “first things” he would do if he won would be to fire members of the National Executive Committee (NEC).
The NEC is known amongst UKIP insiders to be Tory-supporting, anti-Farage, and broadly inept. They excluded Steven Woolfe – a long time Farage supporter – from the race on dubious grounds last month. Mr. Etheridge spoke of a “difference of philosophy” emerging in the party, promised to be “ruthlessly efficient” and said there would be no “jobs for the boys” unless they “pulled their weight”.
He hailed Mr. Farage as the “greatest politician of a generation” and said he would ask him to “get back involved on a front line level”, before slamming those who have been “damn right disloyal” to the “party and leader… especially the one responsible for hijacking our 2015 manifesto.”
Former Tory councillor Suzanne Evans, now suspended from UKIP, claims to have written the party’s manifesto which Mr. Etheridge attacked once again, as he did last week, when he labelled it “centre ground” and “disastrous”, urging the party not to fear “offending everyone” and be “radical” after the Brexit vote.
His headline policy is “privatising the BBC” which he said peddles “left-wing propaganda” with tax payers’ money. He says he’s strong on law and order, a “flatter” rate of tax, and on “restoring the libertarian principles… UKIP was founded on”.
Meanwhile, Lisa Duffy – a UKIP councillor and former cleaner and shop worker in high street chain TK Maxx – said the party should “go and sell that great manifesto… [and] great policies” from 2015.
Ms. Duffy has seen the small anti-Farage vote gather behind her campaign in the contest so far – including an endorsement from Suzanne Evans. She also works as the chief of staff to MEP Patrick O’Flynn, who called Mr. Farage “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive”.
At the hustings, she called on the party to “build on” the 2015 manifesto by echoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in demanding “a billion pounds of new money for mental health services” and said UKIP should become “the party of the NHS”.
The favourite to win the contest, MEP Diane James, the party’s home affairs and justice spokesperson, has been absent from all twelve of the hustings so far, including Thursday’s.
She told BBC Radio 4 this morning that she is so keen on the 2015 manifesto she “had not put forward any policies” and would instead “refresh and review our very successful… general election manifesto.”
Ms. James appears aware that while Ms. Evans claimed to write the manifesto, she indeed only project managed it, with the policies actually written by the party’s spokespeople for the relevant areas.
Ms. James claimed she had remained absent from the meetings “because I have been running my own programme of events around the country” and there was “no need to debate with my rivals”.
“What I’m doing is appealing directly to the members and the activists. I’m giving myself forward two hours at every single event that I’ve organised. They can come along and forensically question me…” she said.
Other candidates present included UKIP councillor Phillip Broughton, a younger man who focused on reducing the national debt and crime.
He said the NEC rules “have to apply equally to everybody”, clearly indicating he was happy with Mr. Woolfe’s exclusion and would not be confronting the NEC.
The final candidate, solicitor Elizabeth Jones, agreed. She said she would “not [fire] anybody” if she won and claimed there was “a place in my party for everybody”.