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18 December 2015

Douglas Carswell brings Ukip’s splits into the open

By calling for a "fresh face", Ukip's only MP has brought questions about the leader's competence into public view.

By Stephen Bush

Douglas Carswell has told the BBC that Nigel Farage must step down as leader, saying that the party needs a “fresh face” if it is to go “to the next level”. 

Talking to BBC Essex, Carswell, who became Ukip’s first MP when he defected from the Conservatives in 2014, said “no party is defined by any one person”, but ruled himself out of contention for the role. Farage told the BBC that he was unsurprised by the remarks, as ‘he has been saying this privately for some months”. Indeed, Ukip’s solitary MP has cast a lonely figure within the party for some time. 

Within the party, there is a sense that the Farage approach may be running out of road – that he limits the party to 15 per cent of the vote in high-turnout elections and the odd victory in midterm, while Carswell’s fears that he could hurt, rather than help the cause of Brexit in the coming referendum, extend well beyond Ukip and run throughout the Leave camp. Carswell, who cites William Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, as his political hero, believes that Ukip should reinvent itself as an optimistic and full-throated libertarian party. 

However, even those who share Carswell’s diagnosis of their Farage problem are divided as to the quality of his solution. One senior figure told the New Statesman that there is “no bigger market for that [Carswell’s libertarianism]” than for Faragism. Many of Ukip’s most talented politicians – Steve Woolfe, Patrick O’Flynn, Suzanne Evans – would be unlikely to adopt the vision of Ukip envisaged by Carswell.

Nevertheless, it could trigger the second coup attempt of 2015 against Farage, who saw off an attempt by Carswell, and the senior MEP Patrick O’Flynn to force him to take a backseat after the party failed to make an electoral breakthrough in 2015. Ukip’s history is spotted with civil wars, particularly following electoral disappointments. However, Carswell may soon be brutally reminded of what insiders call “Ukip’s one rule”: “Nigel always wins”. 

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