Ukip will hold a new leadership election later this year, at which Gerard Batten is likely to face a challenge from senior members unhappy at the far-right direction in which he is taking the party and his close links to the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson. A meeting of the party’s national executive on Sunday agreed…
Ukip will hold a new leadership election later this year, at which Gerard Batten is likely to face a challenge from senior members unhappy at the far-right direction in which he is taking the party and his close links to the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson.
A meeting of the party’s national executive on Sunday agreed that Batten, who took over last April with an initial one-year brief to stabilise Ukip, will stay on in the post until after May’s local elections, after which a full leadership contest will be held.
A party spokesman, who confirmed the plan, said it was not yet known whether Batten, 64, would stand again. During his tenure a string of senior party members, among them Nigel Farage, have quit in protest at his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies.
It is understood Batten has agreed to a plan in which he would formally resign as leader then remain an interim capacity until after the local elections on 2 May.
The subsequent leadership poll, in which Ukip will select its fifth permanent leader since Farage quit the post in 2016, is likely to be closely fought between candidates with very different visions for the party, particularly if Batten stands again.
Batten, an MEP and Ukip veteran, has sought to move the party to the far right. He has called Islam a “death cult” and suggested that UK Muslims should be asked to sign a declaration renouncing elements of the Qur’an.
Disquiet among more moderate members peaked in November when Batten appointed Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, as an adviser on grooming gangs and prisons. The founder of the English Defence League, Robinson is not allowed to join Ukip under party rules designed to exclude the far right.
In December, Farage quit Ukip after 25 years, saying the party he led to its greatest successes was unrecognisable because of Batten’s “fixation” with anti-Muslim policies.
A series of other senior members have quit, including former leader Paul Nuttall, Ukip’s leader in Scotland, David Coburn, and a number of other MEPs, and Peter Whittle, Ukip’s 2016 candidate for London mayor.
Batten faced potential action by the national executive, but won a vote of confidence.
One Ukip member insider said the coming leadership election would be a pivotal moment for Ukip: “Whether or not Gerard stands, it is fair to say this will be a battle for the heart and soul of the party.”
Under Farage, Ukip topped the polls in the 2014 European elections, and won the third largest number of votes in the 2015 general election. Since then, the party has slumped amid the chaos of repeated leadership changes.
When Batten was appointed without a contest he was charged with stabilising the party after the disastrous tenure of Henry Bolton, and restoring its moribund finances. He has done that, and membership has increased. However, it is polling at only about 4% or 5%.