Sunday 11 December 2016

Farage ally is elected as leader of a Ukip still riven by factions

Andrew Woodcock

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

Diane James Photo: Getty Images
Diane James Photo: Getty Images

Diane James has become the new leader of Ukip. She is the first woman to lead the eurosceptic party and a close ally of her predecessor, Nigel Farage.

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Her first challenge will be to restore unity to a party which has been riven by what a defecting activist described as a "Venn diagram" of factions.

The frontrunner throughout the leadership campaign, Ms James was backed by supporters of Mr Farage and Ukip's millionaire funder Arron Banks, who predicted that the party would be "dead in the water" if she was defeated.

But she must now work out how to bring together an array of prominent figures jostling for influence within the party, from Ukip's only MP, Douglas Carswell, to would-be leaders Steven Woolfe and Suzanne Evans - both of whom were barred from standing - runner-up Lisa Duffy and Welsh Assembly member Neil Hamilton.

Her refusal to take part in hustings debates with rivals during the leadership contest was seen by some as a sign of lack of enthusiasm for the role, but she insisted that she was better able to press her case talking to activists directly.

She has promised to have a "laser focus" on the Brexit negotiations, holding Theresa May's government to account for delivering on the Leave vote in June's EU referendum. And she has also said that she will "professionalise" the party.

After a career in the healthcare sector, Ms James first won election to Waverley Borough Council in Surrey as an independent in 2007, after becoming "disillusioned" with the Conservatives.

She switched to Ukip in 2011 and shot to national prominence in 2013 when she fought the parliamentary by-election in Eastleigh, Hampshire, resulting from the downfall of Cabinet minister Chris Huhne, who was jailed for lying about a speeding offence. She came close to taking the seat from the Liberal Democrats, coming second with 27.8pc - less than 2,000 votes behind the winning candidate.

Ms James (56) was elected as an MEP for South-East England in 2014, as part of the political "earthquake" achieved as Ukip became the first non-mainstream party in modern times to win a national election in the UK.

She was appointed Ukip's deputy chairwoman and home affairs spokeswoman, but stood aside from a planned bid to become an MP in the general election in 2015 for "personal reasons", after being selected as candidate for North West Hampshire.

Ms James raised some eyebrows in a 2015 interview by declaring her admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, describing him as "a strong leader" who stands up for his country.

Educated at Rochester Girls Grammar School and Thames Valley University, she speaks French and German.

Her election to the leadership means that Ukip joins the Conservatives, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in having a female politician at the helm, while the Greens have a woman as job-sharing co-leader.

Irish Independent

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