No one should be surprised by Suzanne Evans’s imminent appointment as Ukip’s new interim leader, expected to be confirmed by Ukip’s National Executive Committee today. When he announced he was resigning – for now – after his defeat in Thanet South on Friday, Nigel Farage recommended Evans as his successor. And what Nigel wants in Ukip, Nigel gets.
Of course, this probably isn’t the end for Farage. While declaring himself to be a rare example of a politician who actually keeps a promise, he has simultaneously said that he could return as leader in September. And if he wants to be leader no one – certainly not his friend Evans – will stop him. Farage has come back as leader once before, after stepping down for a year in 2009. The probability is that he will do so again.
When I interviewed her recently Evans said that, if Farage didn’t win she’s be “The first to be trying to get him to stay on.” She was in close consultation with Farage when writing Ukip’s manifesto. “There were a couple of things he said he didn’t agree with that came out,” she said. “Nigel and I kept in close contact. We had a couple of meetings as it was in progress. If there was something I wasn’t sure about, I’d phone him; something he particularly wanted in – he’d phone me.”
Evans has impressed in recent months as an unobtrusive figure of quiet competence. “I’m loving it. I’m certainly not going to leave politics,” she recently told me. “I think I’m fairly good at it – people seem to think I am.” Somewhat embarrassingly, the Conservatives did not agree: she was rejected as a Tory candidate for parlaiment two years ago, a few months before she joined Ukip.
She did a fine job on Ukip’s manifesto – a notable step up on 2010’s offering, which Farage described as “drivel”. Perhaps, as a less polarising figure than Farage, Evans might be able to move Ukip onto a different stage in their political journey. But if she is only leader for four months, she won’t be able to achieve much. Ukip don’t seem ready to move on from Farage just yet.