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14 May 2015

Get Nigel? The infighting in Ukip kicks up a notch

The knives are out for Nigel Farage - and the biggest loser may be Ukip's great cause.

By Tim Wigmore

The tumult in Ukip deepens. Nigel Farage’s unresignation, at the behest of the National Executive Committee, three days after he had declared himself a different ilk of politician who actually kept his promise, has sparked a brutal bout of fear and loathing in the party.

Stuart Wheeler, the party’s biggest donor, has called on Nigel Farage to resubmit himself to a leadership election in the wake of his defeat in South Thanet and the subsequent furore. In the Times today economics spokesman Patrick O’Flynn warns that Farage risks looking “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive” and that his U-turn over whether to resign risks making Ukip look like “an absolutist monarchy or a personality cult”.

Really this is less about who should lead Ukip than the type of party Ukip wants to be. O’Flynn denounced the “inexperienced” team Farage has surrounded himself with, warning that they have adopted a “Tea Party, ultra-aggressive American influence,” and advocates “a much more consultative and consensual leadership style”. Those he criticised did not hold their peace for long, with one telling Sebastian Payne that O’Flynn has had “personal problems and this may be the manifestation of them”.

All of this is “toxic, nasty stuff,” as one senior Ukip source told me. “Over the last few months, there’s been a change in tone for the worse.” My source believed that the briefing against O’Flynn had come from Raheem Kassam, who joined Ukip as an election strategist from Breitbart last October. Kassam is also associated with the core vote strategy that Ukip adopted over the election campaign, which included mentioning migrants with HIV during a TV debate.

Such a message is anathema to Douglas Carswell’s vision of a party with a more positive message: “Enoch Powell was wrong,” he wrote earlier this year. The row over whether Ukip should accept the £650,000 a year in Short Money that the party is entitled to – with Carswell adamant that not all money should be accepted, to prove that Ukip is a different sort of political party – is another dimension to the row.

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All of this weakens Ukip, a week on from winning almost four million votes. “We have a duty of care to those who gave us their trust with their votes and we must live up to that duty,” the source said. “We have to behave sensibly and we need to settle down.”

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Ultimately vicious in fighting in Ukip does not just damage the party but the party’s great cause. The more this unsavoury saga rumbles on, the worse things look for Better Off Outers.