The reign of Nigel Farage, who since 2010 has taken Ukip from a little-noticed band of outsiders to an insurgent political force, is over. Yesterday, voters in South Thanet, where Farage was locked in a bitter three-way battle for the seat with the Tory Eurosceptic Craig Mackinlay and the young Labour firebrand Will Scobie, chose not to grant the seat to the Ukip leader. He subsequently stood down, as he had promised to in such a situation, triggering what is likely to be a period of upheaval in the party.
But Ukip is bigger than just Farage. If he doesn’t stand for the leadership again—he hasn’t ruled it out—someone would have to step in to fill his £199 shoes. Who would it be? We’ve gone through the runners and riders…
Ukip’s first proper MP, Carswell jumped ship from the Tory party to join the purple peril last year. The resultant media furore—sustained as he gave up his seat, then triumphantly reclaimed it in an energetic by-election campaign—propelled Carswell to a level of public recognition which surpassed some members of the cabinet. He has the kudos to match his profile, too; his political reform ideas inspired several ambitious direct democracy proposals in Ukip’s manifesto. But he’s been less visible lately, absenting himself from major events for much of the election campaign, and focusing instead on shoring up his majority on the doorstep, presumably helping him to take back the seat last night with a relatively comfortable, though reduced, majority. And as someone who thrives on a maverick, independent image, Carswell might not even want to tie himself to the drudgery of a party leader’s life—he has ruled out standing in the past.
Will he get it? He probably wouldn’t even want it
Once one of Ukip’s best friends in the media, O’Flynn left his job at the Daily Express—now the national newspaper which is most supportive of the party—to become Farage’s Director of Communications last year. He made the jump from spin doctor to elected representative in May, when the East of England EU parliament constituency made him their MEP, and he also took on the post of economics spokesman. As a journalist, he had a track record of lighting on politically explosive issues before the politicians did—he noticed the salience of inheritance tax before Osborne, for example. He’s led Ukip into some similarly addictive economic ideas, including their manifesto pledge to scrap tax on the minimum wage. That said, he’s not always in favour with Farage. His “wag tax” idea—a levy on luxury goods floated at the party’s summer conference—was quickly put paid to by his leader, who disowned it just two days later.
Will he get it? He’s a big name (by Ukip standards) and remains a reliable fixture at the party’s media events, but his economics might be too lefty for some.
Ukip’s deputy leader and former party Chairman, a working class boy brought up in a family of Labour voters near Liverpool, has been credited with masterminding Ukip’s strong local election strategy, particularly in the north. A higher profile for Nuttal would help Ukip shore up its support in that part of the country—he looks and sounds a lot more like voters in those areas than privately educated, ex-trader Farage. His politics, as expressed in a recent interview with the New Statesman, are rather more robust than the “don’t scare the horses” attitude the party took when drafting its 2015 manifesto. He supports the reintroduction of the death penalty in some cases, and has been happy to go on record saying that NHS privatisation could be a good thing (on the latter point, Farage has expressed similar sentiments, but the party doesn’t agree and Farage has said he accepts their verdict.) That could cut either way; some Ukip members gripe about the newfound message discipline in the party and might take to a more outspoken leader, or they might see him as too risky, potentially throwing away the newfound respectability Ukip has earned.
Will he get it? He’d almost certainly run, given he’s ruled out being anyone else’s deputy. It remains to be seen whether the party would trust him to build on its recent successes.
A relatively recent convert to Ukip—she only joined two years ago—Deputy party Chair Evans has come into her own during this election campaign. She took over the authorship of the party’s manifesto from Tim Aker, a Councillor, MEP and former Candidate for Thurrock who said he needed to spend more time on his other roles. She delivered a document—and a launch speech—which was widely praised as reasonable and focused (by Ukip standards anyway.) She is considered one of the party’s best media performers, and has in a very oblique way the backing of Farage, who has said he wants his successor to be a woman. On the other hand, Evans’s appeal at the moment is as the soothing yin to Farage’s raging yang. Whether she could carry the party by herself is another story.
Will she get it? She’s a front runner, but she doesn’t have that tubthumping Farage magic
As immigration spokesman, former lawyer and current MEP Woolf has been in charge of Ukip’s most important brief; opposition to uncontrolled mass immigration is at the heart of the party’s appeal. Given the controversies and accusations of racism that dog the party wherever it goes, Woolf himself has managed to stay relatively clear of any rows. He has been instrumental in forming a comparatively positive, anti-mass immigration message which encourages skilled migration while opposing the free movement of unskilled workers from the EU, discussing presentation with liberal Douglas Carswell on at least one occasion and steering clear of the more robust language on issues like HIV that his leader sometimes employs. He has said he’d consider standing in the past.
Will he get it? One of Ukip’s most capable and experienced performers, Woolf would be in with a good chance.