Who will be the Next UKIP Leader, Final Thoughts.
UPDATED: We’ve been told since that the leadership results are likely to be brought forward as the result is likely to be known sooner. Perhaps 4:15.
We’re at the UKIP conference at The Riviera Centre in Torquay and the hall is packed, there are no vacant seats in the auditorium. As the speakers address conference I talk to some UKIP members to get the final thoughts before the result of the leadership contest is announced. The result is expected to come through at 5:15pm although we understand counting is still in progress.
Reece Coombes is the Membership and General Secretary of Young Independence, the party youth wing, Reece is supporting John Reese-Evans and his campaign centred around Direct Democracy:
Who do you think will win the leadership contest?
“I honestly don’t know, at the start I thought Peter Whittle, then I thought John Reece-Evans, then I thought Anne-Marie Waters and now I don’t know.”
Yes, I think it’s quite a tight contest, it’s difficult to know.
“I think people are overestimating Anne Marie and underestimating John Reece-Evans but I don’t know other than that.”
Do you think this could be another classic case of the pundits getting it wrong, like Trump, like Brexit, are you hopeful that they have it wrong?
“I’m hopeful, yeah. I’ll stay if Anne wins but I’m not supporting her, I’m supporting John obviously. I think most of her support is from members who joined after the deadline for voting or non-members and I think the pundits don’t realise that a lot of the members can’t vote for her which is why they’re overestimating her.”
So you’re going to stay on, will it be on the basis that you think something might change after a few months, there might be another leadership election?
“I think it’s a case of if she wins I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think she’ll be an excellent leader but I don’t know. If in a months’ time UKIP is over 10% in the polls and she’s doing great and talking about things other than Islam”
So it goes back to this much repeated line of ‘nobody knows the real her’ and we’ll have to wait and see?
Do you think there’s a potential that she’s pitched herself as a radical candidate but when it comes down to it she’ll take ownership of the post as leader and will cover other policies?
“Yeah I think that’s possible but we don’t really know because all we’ve really seen, a lot of it is the media spin rather than what she actually is like so I think if she’s leader we’ll get a more accurate view of what she thinks and what she’s going to do. So until that point, I’m not going to walk out because she might turn out to be ok”
Gawain Towler, head of Press for UKIP:
So you probably already know who the new leader is?
“No, they’re still counting, if there’s a recount we don’t know, the reason why we’ve set the announcement for 5:15 is that we know we’ll have the result. If we get it earlier, we’ll try and get it out earlier but we’ll definitely have it by 5:15”
Is Nigel here today?
“Nigel sadly isn’t, he was supposed to be speaking at the gala dinner [after conference] but he’s currently at a family funeral, he was hoping to leave the funeral early and get down here but it’s a 5 hour drive and he knocked it on the head about half an hour ago.”
So do you feel the party is on a knife-edge now, does it all depend on this leadership election?
“Umm, I think there’s more to the party than a single person, there always was and though it will be interesting to see what happens it’s obviously a seminal moment for the party but we thought that last year, so how seminal I’m not entirely sure. Certainly there is a fork in the road, our members will decide which fork to go down.”
Paul Oakley, UKIP NEC member and former Leadership Candidate:
So how do you ‘feel’ about the UKIP leadership, what’s your feeling?
“How do I feel about it, well it’s been dragging on for months, I think everybody wants it to come to an end.”
It feels like it has been an 18 month leadership contest?
“oh yes, the perpetual struggle”
Have you any inkling of who you think may win.
“I think John Reese-Evans has fallen back and that’s not a reflection on his character or the way he’s run his campaign but he’s just been focusing on direct democracy and people would like to know what their leaders are proposing rather than the leader saying ‘what do you want me to do’, that’s not a criticism. Henry Bolton has done very well, he has some great attributes, he probably has the best CV of any of the candidates and if he doesn’t get the leadership then he ought to be defence spokesman, there’s no question about that. Just as David Kurten, a proper teacher is our education spokesman. Peter Whittle has run a very good campaign, he’s statesman like, but we knew that, he’s passionate about Brexit, he has not and never will cause the party any problems, he’s the ideal choice.”
A lot of people are saying Anne Marie Waters is going to win, do you agree with that?
“She certainly has an awful lot of followers on Twitter, she’s got more than any of the other candidates..”
But it’s not won or lost on social media is it, more about the Independence magazine? (the internal party membership mag)
“Exactly, it’s an echo chamber. That was actually brought home to me at the last leadership election because I actually thought, John Reese-Evans, although he wasn’t going to win would come second but he came third behind Suzanne Evans even though he had a massive presence on Twitter and Facebook. So I don’t think that matters and a lot of her supporters aren’t members and they should never be allowed to be members because they’re ex-BNP.”
Jim Carver MEP, former foreign affairs spokesman, resigned in protest of the 2017 ‘integration agenda’ which was at the centre of 2017 UKIP general election campaign. With hindsight he turned out to be absolutely correct although at the time it was a pretty radical act which was widely reported at the time.
How do you feel about the leadership election?
“Well it hasn’t happened yet”
But how do you feel about it?
“I’m very confident Henry [Bolton] will win it. I was the first MEP to come out and support Henry”
There’s not much difference in support between the top four?
“I think it’s going to be a very close ballot but I think on paper you’ve only got to look at Henry’s CV, look at what he’s done, his work experience. What really impressed me about him, aside from the work we’ve done together on the foreign affairs committee in Brussels. I’m very impressed by the support he’s given but I also like his plans for restructuring the party.”
Other people have said he has a strong CV and that if he does not win then he should be defence spokesman?
Would he do it?
“I don’t know, you would have to ask him, I’m supporting a candidate who I think is best qualified to be UKIP leader, hopefully he will be by half past five this afternoon.”
So there we have it, four interviews and four different opinions on the expected outcome of the election. More to come when we know the outcome of the contest.