Two aides to the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, have been forced out as the party became gripped by rancorous infighting that put his position in jeopardy.
Ukip confirmed on Thursday that Raheem Kassam, Farage’s senior adviser, and Matthew Richardson, the party secretary, would no longer represent it. Both aides have been blamed by senior party figures for taking the party in a “poisonous” hard-right direction in the run-up to the general election.
Kassam has been at Farage’s side throughout the campaign and one of the driving forces behind controversial “shock and awe” tactics that led the Ukip leader to warn about foreigners with HIV coming to the UK and millions of immigrants from north Africa crossing the Mediterranean.
Their departure appears to be a victory for Patrick O’Flynn, the party’s campaign director, who said Farage had turned into a “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive” man during the election and warned of the party turning into a personality cult. He broke cover in an interview with the Times (£), in which he blamed failures in the party’s election campaign on Farage’s closest aides.
Speaking later to Sky News, O’Flynn said he supported Farage’s leadership but wanted to call time on “poisonous” advisers who had tried to take the party in a hard-right, aggressive, direction similar to the Tea Party movement in the US.
The furore exploded in the days after the Ukip leader briefly stepped down after failing to win his South Thanet target seat, but then withdrew his resignation four days later, saying the national executive had overwhelmingly wanted him to stay.
This prompted calls for Farage to honour his word and step aside from figures such as Stuart Wheeler, a major donor, and Hugh Williams, a co-treasurer. However, his position was shored up by the release of several supportive statements from other donors, including Richmond Desmond, the Daily Express newspaper owner, and Arron Banks, a businessman.
A source with knowledge of Ukip’s internal politics said the root of the battle for the heart of the party is about the role to be played by Farage in any EU referendum. Many eurosceptics, including some within the Tories and some within Ukip, fear the prospect of Farage being the voice of the out campaign, because he is too controversial.
Stuart Wheeler, who has given hundreds of thousands of pounds to the party, told BBC Radio 5 Live that it was “time for something quieter” in terms of the Ukip leadership. He said he thought Farage was exhausted, in pain from back problems and should have stayed resigned, at least until a new contest could be held in the autumn.
Wheeler said Farage was too aggressive and divisive as the party headed into the crucial period before the EU referendum, which would give Ukip the opportunity to campaign for its main aim of leaving.
Hugh Williams, the party’s treasurer, backed Wheeler, saying Farage was the “best political performer in this country, but there has to come a time – and I think that time is probably now – when he has to let the party stand on its own two feet”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “There is a great danger it is seen as a Nigel Farage party rather than the UK Independence party.”
Carswell is also in a standoff with Farage because the MP does not want to accept all of the £3.5m in “short money”– funding for its parliamentary activities – that is due to the party on account of its 3.9m votes. The MP hit out at “excitable” aides to Farage who suggested he should hire a huge parliamentary staff to use up the money.
Mark Reckless, the party’s former Rochester MP, declined to comment when asked by the Guardian if he backed Farage as leader.
O’Flynn insists he is still loyal to Farage and was only ever pushing for the leader’s aides to leave, taking the party back to being led “from the centre or slightly right of centre”. Farage had been expected to leave as party leader after failing to win his South Thanet seat but he returned just four days later, after Ukip’s chairman said the national executive had begged him to stay.
O’Flynn could have been a leadership contender, along with Evans, and the deputy leader, Paul Nuttall. There were a variety of briefings against O’Flynn on Thursday, with the Spectator reporting that one aide said he had “personal problems”.
Throughout the increasingly bitter public spat, Farage has remained largely silent but he briefly told reporters it was not his fault that the NEC unanimously backed him to remain leader. He is scheduled to appear on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night. Ukip donors are due to have a meeting with him on Friday.
Banks firmly backed Farage.
“The truth is that Carswell got 25,000 votes but Nigel got 4m. The rank and file members know that. Nigel got 99.6% of the total votes to Carswell’s 0.4%,” he told the FT. “Patrick [O’Flynn] needs to look at himself before he goes around criticising others. They should let Nigel have a holiday after a long hard election rather than plotting a coup d’état.”
Farage also received backing from long-time Ukip MEPs. Roger Helmer, the MEP who fought the Newark byelection, said: “There has been some unfortunate briefing of the press on issues that should have been resolved privately but I don’t think there’s any substantial consequence although one or two of the two people might have to consider their positions. I’m referring to staff,
not to members.
“Of course Nigel shouldn’t go. He’s the most substantial and respected figure in the party and he is absolutely the right person to fight the referendum campaign. He is the dominant person in the party and huge numbers of party members and activists contacted the NEC to call for him to stay.” Asked about the calls for Farage to go, from Wheeler and Williams, he said: “People like to see their names in headlines but 98% of the party is fully behind Nigel.”
William Dartmouth, another MEP, told a Channel 4 News producer that he also backed Farage, saying: “It’s Nigel’s party.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th May 2015 18.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010