Nigel Farage dismissed Ukip's all-out civil as "people letting off steam" on Thursday, while rejecting talk of a leadership contest as a "massive, massive mistake". Having resigned as party leader following his defeat in Thanet at the general election, Farage said he was persuaded by the party executive committee to remain.
Speaking on BBC Question Time, Farage argued that changing leader would be wrong with an impending EU referendum. After defeat in the Kent constituency, the Ukip kingpin followed through on his pledge to quit as leader before making a U-turn on his decision after party officials said he retained strong backing from party members.
The events prompted MEP Patrick O'Flynn, the party's economic spokesman, to accuse him of turning Ukip into a "personality cult" and becoming a "snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive" man. Farage said: "I was disappointed that a member of our team said this, but look, general elections you're under a huge amount of pressure and particularly it's like a boiler room, a pressure cooker."
He added: "I'm sure the others would agree, and we maintained discipline as a party extraordinarily well during this general election compared with the past. The election's over, people are letting off steam, and we've seen one or two people fighting personal wars against each other. The level of support for me in the party is phenomenal and frankly, to go through a leadership contest at a time when Mr Cameron says he's renegotiating our relationship with the European Union, would be a massive, massive mistake."
Farage said he expected the referendum to be as soon as May 2016 meaning "for Ukip to spend three months on a leadership campaign would have been a huge mistake". The Ukip leader's comments came after the party attempted to portray a rallying of support, producing a series of supportive statements from senior figures and donors.
But O'Flynn defended his remarks to The Times while donor Stuart Wheeler insisted Farage should quit again. O'Flynn told the Press Association: "I may well have burnt my bridges but it had to be said. I'm not in politics to pursue personal seniority but to persuade the British public that we are good enough to govern ourselves away from the EU." He added: "There are a couple of advisers who are pushing Nigel in the wrong direction both in terms of policy and style of leadership."
Spread betting tycoon Wheeler, a former party treasurer who donated almost £100,000 to help fund Ukip's general election campaign, had earlier escalated the row after O'Flynn's comments. He told BBC Radio 5 Live that Farage should go. He said: "I would like him to step down, at least for the moment. And if he wants to put himself up in an election, then he has every right to do so, though I personally would prefer somebody else now."
O'Flynn's explosive intervention prompted Farage's outgoing chief of staff, Raheem Kassam, to call for his resignation. Kassam was one of two Ukip staffers highlighted by Flynn as damaging Ukip. Kassam is on holiday until his election contract expires at the end of May, when he plans to leave Ukip and return to journalism.
He told Sky News: "You cannot go to a national newspaper and air internal party grievances as an elected representative of the party. It is wholly unprofessional and I think Patrick should absolutely consider his position. I have no problem with him as a bloke, I think he's a nice chap, he has some good ideas. But unfortunately over the last 24 hours he has shown himself to be utterly unprofessional and undeserving of holding that title and holding a spokesperson role for the party. I think Patrick should take some time out - I know he has some issues he has to deal with, I feel for him."