Steven Woolfe’s hopes of becoming Ukip leader suffered yet another blow after it emerged he forgot to declare a spent drink-driving conviction when he stood as a police and crime commissioner for the party.
The MEP and migration spokesman, who started as the favourite, has been hit by a series of setbacks in recent days, leading his allies to claim there is a plot against his bid to succeed Nigel Farage.
A vetting panel of members of Ukip’s ruling body will meet on Tuesday to decide whether he is eligible to stand, after he was 17 minutes late in submitting his application to be leader.
There are also claims that he allowed his membership to lapse for more than a year, although Woolfe has dismissed this as nonsense.
However, the emergence of a drink-driving conviction may prove an even more serious setback to his hopes of becoming Ukip leader, as the failure to disclose it may be a possible breach of electoral law.
He was fined £350 and disqualified from driving for nine months after being caught drunk in charge of a scooter in 2002.
“I made a foolish mistake 14 years ago, which I regret. As the years went on I forgot about the conviction as I got on with my life,” he told the Huffington Post.
“The conviction was a spent conviction in November 2012 and not in my mind when I stood for police and crime commissioner in Greater Manchester.
“It was also a spent conviction when I stood for the European elections in 2014 and general election in 2015.”
PCC candidates must declare convictions for which they could have received a prison sentence, and it is a criminal offence to make a false statement on nomination papers, the Electoral Commission website says.
The development will boost the chances of Lisa Duffy, a key party organiser, MEPs Jonathan Arnott and Bill Etheridge, as well as former parliamentary candidate Phil Broughton, and Liz Jones, deputy chair of Ukip Lambeth. It is understood Diane James, the Ukip deputy chairman, may also have thrown her hat into the ring.
However, some of Woolfe’s backers, including Arron Banks, the influential Ukip donor, have alleged there is a plot against his candidacy.
Farage also launched an attack on Ukip’s ruling NEC as “total amateurs” and people of the “lowest grade”, as the contest to replace him became mired in controversy and infighting.
In his Breitbart article, Farage said the NEC was a “barrier to radical change and the modernisation of Ukip”.
“Many of its current crop are among the lowest grade of people I have ever met. To them, being a member of the governing body of Britain’s third-largest political party is the equivalent of scaling Everest,” he said.
“People with no qualification in business or politics make the ultimate decisions of who should be our candidate at a byelection. Or whether the former disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton should be given a route back to public life via being elected as an assembly member in Wales.
“It may sound odd to many but I have been a moderniser in Ukip. I have been fought at every step of the way by total amateurs who come to London once a month with sandwiches in their rucksacks, to attend NEC meetings that normally last seven hours.”
He went on to call on the new leader of Ukip to “bypass the vanity of such people and make big decisions about Ukip’s future via direct polling of the membership”.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st August 2016 17.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010