Ukip fights for its life
The UK Independence Party has launched an inquiry after one of its MEPs collapsed in the European Parliament on Thursday (6 October), the party’s chairman Paul Oakden told BBC.
Steven Woolfe, a front-runner for UKip's leadership position, spent the night in hospital after sustaining a head injury arguing with fellow MEP Mike Hookem.
Woolfe later issued a statement from his bedside, saying he was feeling fine.
Arron Banks, a eurosceptic businessman and Ukip’s main bankroller, also reacted to the news of the brawl, threatening to pull support for the party, which he called at "breaking point”.
He said he would leave Ukip if Woolfe was prevented from standing in the leadership race.
Both Banks and Woolfe are allies of Nigel Farage, the party’s long-time leader and founding member, who stepped down this summer.
The only other contender, at least for the moment, is Raheem Kassad, editor in chief at right-wing news website Breitbart UK.
It is likely, however, that Suzanne Evans will also join the race. Evans is highly regarded by some for writing the party’s 2015 manifesto.
The position was made vacant on Wednesday (5 October), when Diane James threw in the towel, after only 18 days on the job.
With Brexit now underway, the leadership race comes amid soul searching for a party whose primary role was to leave the EU.
Theresa May’s political manoeuvring has also deprived it of the rest of its programme, such as selective education (as opposed to open admission) and immigration control.
Ukip’s membership has plummeted and many of its local seats in southern UK could be lost to the Tories in next year’s elections.
The leadership contest will likely add fuel to the fire.
Nigel Farage has stepped in as the interim leader, continuing to dominate the party. He is well regarded by most UKip MEPs for his efforts in taking the UK out of the EU.
But he has fallen out with Ukip’s only House of Commons MP, Douglas Carswell, Suzanne Evans, and the Ukip national executive committee.
The schism is now so wide that former Ukip spin doctor and Farage aide Alexandra Philips said ”only a failed Brexit” could salvage party unity.
The two fractions are bitterly divided over the direction in which Ukip should go, with Evans' camp opposing a succession of Farage’s divisive, dogmatic and testosterone-fuelled line.
Meanwhile, the Farage bloc accuses critics of planning a coup.
Philipps, writing in the Guardian, pointed to to a toxic culture of divisive rivalry and "cloak-and-dagger" infighting.
"There are so many fractions in Ukip that it became a venn diagram, where the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Philipps said. Last month, she tore up her Ukip party card and joined the Tories.