Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
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? 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

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

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

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.