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1 August 2016

Who is Steven Woolfe? Meet the northern, mixed-race Ukip frontrunner

Woolfe's immigration pitch may go down better than his financial policies. 

By Julia Rampen

Thanks to the deluge of post-Brexit news, the last time many of us heard of Ukip was the resignation of Nigel Farage. But the party is about to resurface again with a leadership election. 

In the absence of Farage, prepare to hear a new name – Steven Woolfe. The Ukip MEP has already made headlines after missing the deadline to apply for the contest because of a technical problem.

He insists he remains a candidate, and many Ukip supporters will hope so. The mixed-race Woolfe is a personal rebuke to those who call Ukip a party of racists and xenophobes. As a working-class northerner, his presence is also an asset for a party eyeing up Labour’s traditional heartlands

In 2014, as the party’s migration spokesman, he told The New Statesman that targeting certain groups “won’t happen under my watch”. He added: “We have to understand that we do want immigrants in this country.”

Woolfe’s soothing manner on immigration could come just when Ukip needs it most. Even a third of Leave voters thought Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster, which depicted a long line of refugees, was a step too far. Woolfe, more than his mentor, understands how to tread the line between talking up toughness on borders and flattering voters that they are being reasonable, not racist. Such rhetoric could allow him to make deep in-roads into the Labour heartlands. 

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Less scrutinised, though, is Woolfe’s financial background. A former legal adviser to hedge funds, he has advocated scrapping the state pension in favour of a private system where every child gets £2,000 at birth. 

The policy may go down well with free market demographic academics, but it is unlikely to chime with traditional Labour voters already worried about privatisation and benefit cuts. 

He has slammed EU regulation on financial service. In November 2014 he remarked after the European court of Justice upheld the cap on bankers’ bonuses: “It is this type of ruling that is pushing more British people towards the EU exit door.”

Providing UKIP forgives Woolfe his last-minute application for the leadership race, he is likely to find himself up against fellow MEPs Jonathan Arnott and Bill Etheridge, as well as Huntingdonshire councillor Lisa Duffy.

One thing that cannot be in doubt is Woolfe’s passion for the job. Speaking at a Ukip campaign launch in June, he read out his own pro-Brexit poetry which included the lines: “Freeborn men and women cry/ oh why oh why oh why/have they imprisoned us with that grand lie.”

Is it the kind of verse that will strike a chord with Ukip voters across the country? We’ll soon find out.