UKIP Leadership Race Intensifies in Brexit Identity Crisis

  • Lawmaker Suzanne Evans sees ‘common-sense centre’ as UKIP path
  • Raheem Kassam gets backing of high-profile party donor

U.K. Independence Party lawmakers have started throwing in their hats to lead the party for a second time after it achieved its main goal of securing a withdrawal from the European Union.

UKIP spokeswoman Suzanne Evans, former party chairman Paul Nuttall and Raheem Kassam, a former aid to Nigel Farage, all said Sunday that they were best-placed to take the party forward as it struggles to renew its purpose and reels from controversies including an altercation between two lawmakers that sent one to hospital.

Suzanne Evans

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

“With me at the helm, I’m absolutely confident that we will be able to reach out to voters on both the left and right of politics,” Evans said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. “This is where our future lies going forward: to be the common-sense center.”

The party intends to have a new leader in position by the end of November, after longstanding figurehead Nigel Farage stepped down in the wake the EU referendum. That’s left the leadership hopefuls with the task of giving the party new purpose and appeal as well as unifying its own ranks.

Farage Legacy

Evans’ middle-ground vision stands in contrast to the one put forward by Kassam, who told Sky News he would “continue Nigel Farage’s legacy” while admitting that the party “needs sorting out.” Kassam has secured the backing of high profile party donor and insurance tycoon Arron Banks.

Paul Nuttall also highlighted the party’s post-Brexit difficulties, writing in the Telegraph that the group is “peering towards a political cliff” and that he would be committed to “look forwards and not backwards to pull it away from the edge.”

Paul Nuttall

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Both Nuttall and Kassam argued that the structure of UKIP’s National Executive Committee needs to be changed, and Kassam said the organization needs a professional management board.

Former leader Diane James, who replaced Farage, resigned at the start of October after just 18 days on the job. Stephen Woolfe, who had been among the bookmakers’ favorites for the leadership, pulled out of the contest and quit the party earlier this month after allegedly being struck by a fellow lawmaker.

The party has had a “more toxic image than we should have had” and “perhaps at times there’s been a bit too much testosterone,” Evans said. “That’s another reason I think I can help to sort of smooth troubled waters.”

Evans was suspended from the party earlier this year for “disloyalty,” though Farage had proposed she become interim leader after he temporarily quit last year. This time, he won’t be voting for her, he said in an interview on ITV’s Peston on Sunday television show.

“For her to talk about the party being toxic, for her to already declare one of the candidates who’s running, Raheem Kassam, as being far right -- I don’t view this as being a very good start,” Farage said.

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