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.