In the wake of Nigel Farage’s latest resignation as leader of UKIP, questions have inevitably been asked as to who his successor might be. Farage yesterday gave a statement in which he said his “political ambition has been achieved” and that he “wants his life back”. He did, however, also suggest he will stand for parliament at the next General Election if exit negotiations with the EU aren’t to his liking – which seems rather likely.
As news of the resignation set in, attention inevitably turned to the question of who will be UKIP’s next leader.
Clacton-on-Sea MP Douglas Carswell, who took issue with Farage’s infamous “breaking point” poster, would be many people’s preferred candidate. He tweeted a smiley emoji in response to Farage’s resignation and has for some time called for “internal change” within his party. However, in a Daily Politics interview he appeared to rule himself out, saying “the chances of me standing to be UKIP leader are somewhere between nil and zero” – although he did say he saw himself in a role in which he could “steer UKIP away from the temptations of becoming an angry, nativist party” and help forge “a new national consensus”.
If Carswell won’t replace Farage, then who will? UKIP’s former deputy chair Suzanne Evans MEP has indicated that she would “love to” take on the role, but faces the not insignificant obstacle of being currently suspended from the party after claiming that the public had a “divisive” view of Farage during a Daily Politics interview. UKIP’s leader in Wales, Neil Hamilton, has also been mooted as a possible successor but like Carswell appears to have ruled himself out.
This leaves Scottish party leader David Coburn as the most senior figure within UKIP who hasn’t declared they’re not standing and is eligible to run.
Coburn today said that he was “sad” that Farage had resigned, tweeting that the outgoing leader “will always have my highest respect and gratitude.” He also told the BBC that “It’s a sad day. But you know he has to have a rest. It’s a big party. We’re evolving. We change and whatever. We’ve done our job but we continue to do it.” Coburn also added that Farage will “still be leading us in the European Parliament”, which could be read as a suggestion the party’s new leader will not come from among the ranks of its MEPs. (It certainly isn’t a factual statement, however, as the leader of UKIP’s delegation in European Parliament is Paul Nuttall, who may choose to throw his own hat into the ring.)
Often active on social media, Coburn took to twitter to send out non-committal comments on his own leadership intentions in his uniquely cryptic style. In a BBC interview, he said “I haven’t given it any thought…we will sit down and have a nice dinner together…see who wants to run. As far as I am concerned I can confirm that I am not, and never will be, a candidate for leadership of the Conservative Party!”
One thing, however, he was sure of was that Evans shouldn’t become UKIP leader. “Absolutely not!” he said. “She has been suspended from the party for…reasons.”
However, he did also insist that UKIP needed to “change the way [it] operates, get our message across better…we need to change the way we do things, make sure our communications are better, it’s been a bit of a mess and we need to change that.” He added that UKIP should be “more inclusive to lots of people who are fed up with the Labour movement, and [reach out] to unhappy Conservatives” and that he would (unlike Ruth Davidson) “work to protect the Union.” All in all, this sounded rather like he was setting out his stall.
Coburn seemed to be a popular choice to succeed Farage on twitter, although how many were being serious is questionable. Green activist Peter McColl tweeted: “With Farage gone, now is the time for David Coburn to step up to the UKIP leadership. The country needs him! More now than ever!” Another man, known as Craig, said: “I’d like to throw my weight behind David Coburn for #UKIP leader, how amazing would that be!!” Others, however, were definitely unimpressed – one pro-independence tweeter said: “the only thing we must not tolerate, is intolerance. David Coburn is fine. Some of his comments are not.”
Coburn has previously made headlines for his hostility towards same-sex marriage, which he described as “false bollocks” advocated by “equality Nazis”. He also suggested that same-sex marriages “breed homophobia”.
The MEP has also been widely criticised for referring to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson as “a fat lesbian” and comparing SNP minister Humza Yousaf to terrorist Abu Hamza.