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5 October 2016

Has Diane James given Steven Woolfe the perfect opportunity for a comeback?

Maybe it's now the time, Mr Woolfe.

By Julia Rampen

Steven Woolfe, the mixed-race, northern, working-class Ukip spokesman on immigration, was viewed by some in the party as the perfect candidate to turn Labour’s heartlands purple. 

And then, in a timekeeping morality tale, it all went horribly wrong.

Woolfe submitted his application to run for the leadership at the last moment, and a computer error meant he missed the deadline. The Ukip National Executive Committee punished him for his tardiness by interpreting the rules strictly and excluding him

The absence of Woolfe paved the way for Diane James to become the first female Ukip leader. In her victory speech, she seemed keen to lead the party and turn it into “an electoral winning machine”. But then she quit after only 18 days in the job.

So, with the leadership race thrown open again, is this Mr Woolfe’s time? 

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Well, it might be, but there’s more to Woolfe’s exclusion than simply a few technical areas and some sticklers for rules. 

His supporters claimed the decision to exclude him was “a coup”, and accused Douglas Carswell, a long-term rival of former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, and Neil Hamilton, of being behind it.

Farage hit out at “political careerists” in his final speech to the party conference. The division is bitter, and one reason James won was her stance as a unifier.

Woolfe may well convince the members to vote for him, but if he does, his victory won’t simply be a popularity contest. It will also be a victory for the Farageist faction against their Carswellite foes.