Nigel Farage said today his critics need to put up or shut up and Douglas Carswell has chosen the former. Confirming that he is the ‘senior figure’ Farage mentioned earlier, the Clacton MP has written an op-ed in the Times tomorrow calling for a change in direction. He says that ‘Ukip has arrived — and Ukip is here to stay’ but calls for Farage to step aside as leader, temporarily or permanently:
‘On Monday, Ukip’s national executive committee made a decision to reinstate Nigel as party leader. Yet even leaders need to take a break. Nigel needs to take a break now.’
But in classic Carswell style, he denies that he wants to lead the party himself. In an echo of his campaign to remove Michael Martin has speaker — see this Guardian op-ed he wrote in May 2009 — he criticises Farage’s leadership in harsh words but rules himself out from taking over. over. As with Martin, it's not that Carswell wants to be king: he just wants to have the right king.
‘I would find it impossible to simultaneously lead Ukip, be the voice of the party in the Commons, represent my Clacton constituents and at the same time be a husband and a dad.’
There are numerous grievances Carswell lists: the 'ill-advised' HIV comments, a failure to 'strike the right tone', the vetting process for candidates and aping 'retro-socalism'. But what has prompted him to action is the impending EU referendum. Now that there is a Conservative majority government, a referendum is set to happen, very possibly as soon as next year.
Carswell is clearly very concerned about the tone Ukip would take during a referendum. He said that Ukippers should ask themselves 'is what I’m doing at this moment making an “out” vote more likely' and argues Ukip should not dominate the campaign to leave:
‘Instead of feeding the idea that EU membership is synonymous with immigration, Ukip should help draw attention to the myriad of ways in which being run by Brussels makes us worse off.
‘The vote on Britain’s EU membership is likely to happen within a year or so. As a vital part of the coalition campaigning for Out, Ukip needs to strike the right tone. We must be part of a movement, but not seek to dominate it.’
The question facing those, like Carswell, who want Britain out of the EU is how to convince at least 51 per cent of the British public that leaving is the right answer. Everything we have seen from Farage during the election campaign shows that mass appeal might be something he struggles with. He is a divisive character, whose strategy is to target a small portion of the electorate — for example, those HIV remarks, immigrants blocking up the M4 and 'ostentatious breastfeeding'. Carswell is aware that the principal voice behind the ‘out vote’ needs to be someone who can appeal beyond Ukip’s natural base and no longer believes Farage is that man.
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage will both stay in Ukip under the current arrangements. Either Carswell will leave the party — potentially promoting the first by-election of this Parliament — or Farage will step down as leader and allow for a leadership contest. Now the challengers have made their stances known in public, this fight is going to get very bloody.
UPDATE: Responding to Carswell's article, a Ukip spokesman says 'Nigel is taking a break, it's called a summer holiday, that is normal'. Raheem Kassam, Farage’s outgoing chief of staff, has hit back at his comments on fighting the EU referendum: 'Carswell and [Daniel] Hannan want to travel the country quoting Milton in town centres'.
UPDATE 2: It looks as if more blood will be spilled tomorrow. The Telegraph reports that Farage will sack Patrick O'Flynn as economics spokesman and Suzanne Evans' position as deputy chairman 'also looks precarious'. Instead of adopting a more consensual leadership approach, Farage will reportedly run Ukip in a more 'autocratic' way. A full blown civil war looks set to break out.