The results of UKIP’s leadership elections are in: Diane James has won with 8451 votes out of a total of 17,790. In a contest between five candidates she secured 47% of the vote. It is a clear victory, with her closest rival getting 4000 fewer votes, and just 26% of the total vote count. But then James, who was widely regarded as the most capable of the candidates, had been the favourite to win.
During her acceptance speech, James made the suggestion that the EU’s day were numbered: “we have only just won a heat” in a “28-member state Olympic competition to leave the European Union”.
However, on the subject of the government’s forthcoming negotiations to leave the EU, she struck a more cautious note: “threats to the referendum outcome are increasing by the day”, while she rejected a “Brexit-lite”. James also urged the Prime Minister to “get on” with the job invoking article 50.
Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, some commentators have suggested that UKIP’s days are numbered because it no longer has a purpose. While there may be something to that argument, James has given the party a purpose for the time being – that of putting pressure on the government to deliver a so-called “hard Brexit”
James’ problem is that she does not have the charisma, energy and bullishness of Nigel Farage, who will be a tough act to follow.
If James wants to be effective in putting pressure on the government she will have to maintain UKIP’s current level of support. While UKIP voters have been steadfast in their support for Farage’s UKIP, it remains to be seen whether James can retain their attention and loyalty.
Her first speech to the membership was not altogether encouraging for UKIP’s prospects. It lacked the energetic and confident delivery that UKIP supporters have come to expect from their leader – although it remained characteristically defiant, with digs at “Magpie May” for nicking UKIP policies, as well as to “Remainiacs”.
James may have just won UKIP’s leadership election, but that does not mean to say that she is well known by the membership. According to a poll conducted by YouGov, only 8% of UKIP voters had heard of James prior to her election. UKIP is currently polling at 13%. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the party’s level of support in the coming months…
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has said that he will remain involved in politics by commenting on matters in the UK, paying visits to Eurosceptic parties on the continent and perhaps making another foray into American politics.
While the former UKIP leader has urged UKIP voters to support James’ leadership, there has been some talk that he could return to UKIP’s helm if Mrs May failed to deliver a hard Brexit. The suggestion, however speculative, is that another “unresignation” could eventually be in the offing…