“For want of a wifi, a kingdom was lost.”
So it seemed to many Kippers after Steven Woolfe bizarrely failed to submit his application for the leadership of Ukip on time this summer, leaving the second favourite Diane James to be elected by a landslide.
Speaking to many Ukip members at conference, it was clear to me that Woolfe was the favourite and the membership was deeply disappointed he was not on the ballot. They bore no animus towards Diane James, but quietly questioned whether she had the strength to lead a notoriously fractious party. Her shock resignation, just 18 days into the job, has clearly proved their concerns justified.
It now seems that way is clear for Woolfe to have another go at the leadership. The question is he really the right man for the job, and does he really want it?
In many ways Woolfe is the candidate from central casting. At a time when Labour is camped out in the Tooting Popular Republic, Woolfe is Northern lad made good: a City lawyer born on a Manchester council estate. A more polished figure than Nigel Farage, he manages to combine the straight talking of his Lancastrian upbringing with a more urbane but quietly assertive manner likely to appeal to both working and middle class voters. It is a great pity that these things still matter, but as someone from a mixed ethnic background (black American, Irish, English and Jewish) his election would do much to dispel the racist image Ukip still has with many voters. Though possessing nowhere near the charisma or force of personality of the iconic Farage, he does have a natural authority. What is less clear is whether he has the political and diplomatic skills to lead a party severely riven by egos and ideological differences at its highest levels.
The other question is does he want it? In fairness, submitting your bid at the last moment can be a deliberately canny act, the psychological affect on the receiver being akin to the main actor entering the stage once the rest of the cast has assembled. Nonetheless, missing the deadline could be the product of a slipshod attitude or deep reluctance. Woolfe does have, after all, a young family, and being the leader of a divided but highly ambitious major political party would clearly lead to much personal sacrifice.
Similarly, although a lack of professionalism seems unlikely in someone who has advised City hedge funds, it is difficult to dismiss such concerns entirely: far more serious than a missed deadline for the leadership is Woolfe’s previous failure to disclose a conviction for drink driving when running for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012 – potentially a criminal offence in itself.
All that said, social conservatives should wish Steven Woolfe well and hope and pray he has both the desire to put his hat into the ring – in good time, please – and the qualities of leadership the party desperately needs. It is jokingly said that in reality under Mrs May we already have a Ukip government, so what’s the point of Ukip any more?
However, a lesson of history – and one infused into Kippers’ very DNA – is that the entitlement-fixated Tories always require an external threat to keep them on the straight and narrow. A united Ukip that managed, somehow, to combine the party’s undoubted courage, the intellectual brilliance of Douglas Carswell’s vision of a digital future, together with social conservatism would be a potent mix, deciding the direction of British politics for decades to come.
It’s time, Mr Woolfe.
(Image: Cicero Group)