Nigel Farage is no more as Ukip leader – well, for now, anyway. After losing in Thanet South, Farage has said that he is standing down as leader, though he did not rule out standing in the leadership election in September. So who could replace him?
Farage’s preferred option – he let her enjoy the limelight at Ukip’s manifesto launch last month, and, after his resignation, immediately recommended her as temporary leader of the party. Evans enjoyed a reasonable election, winning 14.4 per cent in Shrewsbury & Atcham, never considered a Ukip target, and is highly-valued for her diligence and calm, unthreatening manner. Farage has also often stated that he thinks Ukip’s next leader will be a woman. Given his huge power within the party that means Evans, a former journalist who has only been in Ukip for two years after defecting from the Conservatives, is the person to beat.
Comprehensive-educated and from a working-class family of Labour supporters in Bootle, a dockyard town next to Liverpool, in many ways Nuttall is the antithesis of Farage. His election as leader would symbolise a party committed to overturning Labour in the north: Nuttall is credited as the architect of their ‘northern strategy’. And he wants the job, too, telling me that he “wouldn’t be anyone else’s deputy” earlier this year. No one has stronger internal credentials that Nuttall: though just 38, he has served as Farage’s deputy for five years.
But whether Nuttall would be able to maintain Ukip’s fragile coalition is a different matter. He supports reintroducing the death penalty for child murderers, serial killers and those who murder police officers and, as a devout Catholic, advocates limiting abortion to the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. Serving under him might be rather difficult for Douglas Carswell to reconcile with his classical liberalism – perhaps why Carswell is not ruling out making a bid for leader…
Ukip’s sole MP, Carswell did not rule out a possible bid for leader after his re-election in Clacton. Articulate, engaging and well-respected by the media, Carswell’s classically liberal views might not be the best fit with a party that now regards the north as its most fertile source of votes. Having defected from the Conservatives under a year ago, he also risks being depicted as a carpetbagger if he ran for the leadership. Still, he was Ukip’s only winner on election night.
If he wants to, Ukip will go back to the future again (Farage was previously leader from 2006 to 2009 until standing down for a year). Farage pointedly said that – after couple of months off (he has not had a two-week holiday since 1993) – he could return as leader in September. He may decide he prefers the good life instead, but that Farage entertained the possibility in his moment of defeat suggests a man who may reign as Ukip leader for a while yet.