Blow for Nigel Farage as Neil Hamilton wins UKIP assembly group leadership
Could Ukip top job be next for the man once branded ‘a liar and a cheat’?
Neil Hamilton has been elected as the leader of UKIP's seven-strong group in the Welsh Assembly, after audaciously ousting a close ally of Nigel Farage.
The party's AMs met on Tuesday in the Senedd to decide who should lead them. In an outcome that stunned political observers in Wales, the former Conservative MP deposed the party’s Welsh leader Nathan Gill as he got the nod by four votes to three.
Hamilton was among the winners for Ukip as the party celebrated getting its first ever seats in the assembly last week. But the choice of Hamilton as leader at Cardiff Bay will be seen as a major blow for the Ukip national leader.
It follows revelations in March that Farage was so desperate to stop Hamilton from fighting for a seat on the Welsh Assembly that he he ripped up an internal assessment of candidates which put Hamilton in prime position. However Ukip’s National Executive Committee – of which Hamilton is a member – put the matter out to a vote of members and the ex-Tory MP was placed top of the list for Mid and West Wales.
Gill will continue as leader of UKIP Wales, a position appointed by the UKIP leader. However some in Ukip believe that today’s development could signal the start of a challenge both to Gill’s leadership in Wales - and possibly even Farage in the UK.
Hamilton confirmed his successful bid at an impromptu news conference in an assembly corridor.
"We've achieved an outcome by consensus," he said. "We decided to put all past differences behind us and forget the lead up to the election campaign, where there was a lot of personal animosity created.
"I've been chosen to do a specific job to be leader of the UKIP AMs within the assembly. I've got great deal of parliamentary experience. I've been a government minister.
I'm going to make use of that experience within the group to give UKIP the maximum amount of impact during the course of the next five years."
Hamilton entered the Commons as a Tory MP in 1983 and served as a minister under John Major. In 1994 The Guardian published allegations that he had accepted envelopes of cash from Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed in exchange for parliamentary questions.
Hamilton sued The Guardian for libel, but dropped the case at the eleventh hour. The affair led to the paper branding him “a liar and a cheat” on its front page.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has reported that Hamilton’s wife, Christine, said her husband would not speak to the paper because of a "vile" article by Michael White this week. In the article, Farage is described as a "shameless, self-promoting rascal".