Could quiet woman Diane James sneak a Ukip leadership victory?

Written by Tom Smithard on 3 August 2016 in Diary
Diary

As Steven Woolfe's campaign implodes, a new leadership favourite launches her campaign on the sly.

As Westminster watchers crowd round the train-wreck of Steven Woolfe’s failed bid for Ukip leader little attention is being paid to the woman who now looks set to take the crown – and that’s the way she will like it.

Diane James kept her leadership bid secret until forced to declare her hand yesterday, watching and waiting while other candidates imploded or had their consiglieres turn fire on each other.

She has projected calm, measured authority ever since she first came to people’s attentions in 2013 as the Ukip byelection candidate in Eastleigh, following Chris Huhne’s guilty plea for perverting the course of justice.

The race had been expected to be a straight fight between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives – but James’s quiet perseverance and assured campaigning struck a chord, running the Lib Dems close and pushing the Tories into a low third.

Since then the 56-year-old has quietly risen through the Ukip ranks without appearing to create many enemies – no mean feat in a party riven by factions, rivalries and alcohol-fuelled negative briefings.

A year after the byelection she became an MEP for south east England and a month later was promoted to the front bench, taking on the home affairs and justice brief.

In February this year she became deputy chairman of the party when Suzanne Evans was suspended – James subsequently described her to the BBC as a “woman scorned”, the most public attack she has made on a Ukip colleague.

The former healthcare consultant and Simple Minds fan started as a Conservative supporter but grew disillusioned in the early David Cameron years, standing – and winning – a seat on Waverley council in Surrey as an independent in 2006. She lost it back to the Tories in 2015.

Launching her leadership campaign today, Diane James said:

“Under my leadership Ukip will continue to provide a political option for voters disillusioned with that offered by the legacy Westminster parties. We must capitalize on their current disarray … My leadership style will be different. In my time as an MEP I have come to appreciate the scale and depth of talent that the party possesses within its membership, local representatives and MEPs. I intend to enable that talent and ensure that Ukip harnesses these attributes so that it can continue in its role of encouraging participatory democracy in the UK political system.”

Despite her reputation as the quiet woman of Ukip a James leadership would still raise some eyebrows, not least for her similar views to Donald Trump on foreign policy.

Like the Republican candidate, she says she admires Vladimir Putin, telling LBC Radio:

“I admire him from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country. He is very nationalist. He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first, and he has issues with the way the EU encouraged a change of government in the Ukraine which he felt put at risk a Russian population in that country.”

Campaigning for the Ukip leadership will take place throughout August with ballot papers being issued on September 1. The winner will be announced at its conference on September 15 in Bournemouth.

Other candidates are Jonathan Arnott, Phillip Broughton, Lisa Duffy, Bill Ethridge and Liz Jones.

Picture by: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/Press Association Images

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