Ukip is set for civil war after former leadership favourite Steven Woolfe was banned from standing because of his late application, making Diane James the new frontrunner to succeed Nigel Farage.
The move to exclude him by Ukip’s vetting panel will provoke fury from his backers, including Ukip donor Arron Banks and possibly Farage.
Banks has blamed a coup led by those close to Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP and critic of Farage, and Neil Hamilton, the former Conservative MP. He has also threatened to call an extraordinary general meeting in an attempt to overturn the decision.
Woolfe himself may be prepared to launch a legal challenge. Those on the ballot are James, a former parliamentary candidate, Bill Etheridge, an MEP, Elizabeth Jones, a deputy chairman of Ukip’s Lambeth branch, Jonathan Arnott, also an MEP, Lisa Duffy, a party organiser, and Phillip Broughton, a former candidate.
The exclusion is likely to lead to a battle over the future of the party by those loyal to the previous regime of Farage and others who want it to pursue a new direction.
The backlash started immediately as three members of the national executive resigned – Victoria Ayling, Mick McGough and Ray Finch. In a joint letter, they said members of the national executive committee (NEC) had placed “personal ambitions, loyalties and jealousies at the heart of their decision-making” and displayed an “escalating megalomania”.
Tim Aker, a Ukip MEP who came close to winning Thurrock for Ukip at last year’s general election, said he was appalled at Woolfe’s exclusion, adding: “This isn’t over.”
A Ukip spokesman said: “An NEC-led panel sat on Tuesday afternoon to determine the eligibility of those that submitted nomination papers to stand to be Ukip’s new party leader ...By a clear majority of NEC members Steven Woolfe MEP’s application was considered to be ineligible as a result of a late submission and as such he did not meet the eligibility criteria. His membership of the party was not in question.”
Woolfe said he was extremely disappointed to be excluded but appeared to concede defeat, as he wished the other candidates well.
“Having been a committed member of Ukip, standing for the party in multiple elections, acting as a spokesman at the highest level, I wanted to take this opportunity to stand for leader to inject my ideas, plans and passion into the party,” he said.
“Over the course of this leadership election, the NEC has proven it is not fit for purpose and it confirmed many members’ fears that it is neither effective nor professional in the way it governs the party.”
He said the NEC had been forced to accept that his membership had never lapsed and refused to acknowledge “serious issues with the application system”.
“Furthermore, highly confidential information about me held in party documents has been leaked to the press and the NEC has not sought to investigate this gross breach of privacy,” he said.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 3rd August 2016 12.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010