"It's a coup!" Ukip excludes frontrunner Steven Woolfe from leadership contest amid protests

What's the time Mr Woolfe? Time for a computer-aided coup, it seems.

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Steven Woolfe will not be allowed to compete for Ukip's leadership in decision likely to spark controversy in the party. 

Ukip's National Executive Committee ruled by a "clear majority" against allowing Woolfe to run, after technical problems delayed his submission. 

Until the ruling, the Mancunian, working-class Woolfe had been seen as a frontrunner well-positioned to gobble up Labour's vote in the north. 

The NEC stated: "By a clear majority of NEC members Steven Woolfe MEP’s application was considered to be ineligible as a result of a late submission and as such he did not meet the eligibility criteria. His membership of the Party was not in question.”

Woolfe declared himself "extremely disappointed" by the ruling and called the NEC "not fit for purpose".

The decision is set to cause wider division, with Woolfe backers already crying foul. Victoria Ayling, who sits on the NEC, tweeted on 31 July: "Stephen Woolfe must be allowed to stand for Ukip leader."

After the NEC expelled Woolfe's campaign manager, Nathan Gill, she tweeted: "I want to make it clear that I am becoming more appalled at how the NEC are behaving."

And she accused Douglas Carswell, a long-term rival of former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, and Neil Hamilton, of launching a coup attempt. 

Arron Banks, an influential Ukip donor and backer of the Leave.EU campaign, echoed her claims, declaring on Twitter: "It's effectively a Hamilton/Carswell coup."

As a working-class northerner, Woolfe was viewed by some as an asset for a party eyeing up Labour's traditional heartlands. But he missed the deadline to apply for the contest because of a computer problem. 

He said of the NEC after the ruling: "They have failed to accept that there were serious issues with the application system despite providing evidence that attempts of submission were made before the deadline. The NEC deny this is the fault of the UKIP system.

"Furthermore, highly confidential information about me held in party documents has been leaked to the press and the NEC has not sought to investigate this gross breach of privacy."

The exclusion of Woolfe means the candidates for Ukip leader will be the MEPs Bill Etheridge, Diane James and Jonathan Arnott, NEC member Elizabeth Jones, councillor Lisa Duffy and Ukip spokesman Phillip Broughton. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.