Ukip has “no future” if Diane James is not unveiled as the new party leader on Friday, according to millionaire backer Arron Banks.
The businessman, who has poured more than a million pounds into the Ukip since becoming involved in 2014, believes that if any of the other four candidates seeking to replace Nigel Farage are victorious, the party is “dead in the water.”
Banks made the comments ahead of Ukip activists gathering in Bournemouth for the party’s annual conference - where the winner of the summer long leadership contest will be unveiled on Friday.
Yet regardless of who wins the contest, Banks confirmed to the HuffPost UK he will press ahead with his new campaign group, which is described as a “right-wing Momentum.”
Banks will meet with Farage in Bournemouth to discuss how the outgoing leader could be involved in the group - provisionally titled ‘The People’s Movement’.
Based on the success of his Leave.EU group, The People’s Movement will operate as a social media-led campaign group.
As well as calling for the Lords to be replaced by an elected senate, the group is also considering campaigning for Parliament to be forced to repeal two laws every time it passes new legislation.
Speaking to the HuffPost UK, Banks claimed Ukip has “no future” if James is not elected to replace Farage as leader.
He said: “If Ukip doesn’t get the right leader, it will be dead in the water.
“Even if Diane James wins, I think we will do the movement anyway.”
The race to succeed Farage as leader has exposed divisions in the party as it tries to establish an identity for itself following June’s Brexit vote.
With UK set to leave the European Union, Ukip now needs to establish other core policies in order to attract voters.
Early leadership favourite Steven Woolfe – who was barred from standing after missing the application deadline - planned to focus his campaign on rolling out a new generation of grammar schools in the poorest areas of the UK.
Since then, Theresa May has announced she will be introducing grammar schools across the country, once again meaning a Ukip-proposed idea has been adopted by the Tories.
Woolfe told the HuffPost UK he believes Ukip must champion social mobility, and said: “An awful lot of voters who vote for Ukip have been socially excluded and ignored by the Parliamentary Labour Party. What we need firmly to address is issues on health, mental health and the vulnerable as well as issues on social mobility.”
Diane James – who is widely expected to be crowned leader at the conference on Friday – has painted herself as the ‘steady-as-she-goes’ candidate. She will focus on holding the Government to account over Brexit and also “professionalising” the party.
However, her campaign has been dogged by rumours that she was reluctant to stand for the position – and those suggestions only increased after it was revealed she would be shunning all the leadership hustings in favour of running her own events.
She even refused to take part in a Daily Politics show segment which profiled the Ukip candidates, leading the BBC to “empty chair” her.
One source close to the leadership contest said: “The next leader of Ukip will need to unite the party like no other. It therefore doesn’t bode well that one of Diane’s supporters organised a dinner with Nigel as the guest of honour but only invited half the MEPS.
“Diane hasn’t managed to speak to anyone apart from her cheerleaders. It’s a very bad version of mean girls.”
However, someone close to her campaign told HuffPost UK that as many Ukip members had been turning out to James’s events as the hustings, and so there was no concern over her tactics.
Of the other candidates, Ramsey councillor Lisa Duffy and MEP Bill Etheridge have provoked the most interest.
Duffy, who is supported by currently-suspended former Ukip deputy chairman Suzanne Evans, has called for the closure of Islamic schools and the banning of the face veil in public.
While the backing of Evans will have proved unpopular with those Ukip members loyal to Farage, the oft-sacked former Welfare Spokesman does have some support in the membership.
One source close to Duffy claimed that under the first-past-the-post system being used to elect the new leader, as long as all the anti-Evans supporters split their votes among the other candidates then it should not prove a hinderance.
Duffy also has the advantage of being involved in previous Ukip by-election campaigns, meaning she is a known face with many on-the-ground activists.
West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge kicked off his campaign by saying he would not be “chasing the bigot vote”, and also called for a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty and a ban on the face veil in public.
He is pitching himself as a return to Ukip’s libertarian roots, arguing for a small state.
However, he is not without controversy, and in 2011 was suspended from the Conservative Party after posting pictures of himself on Facebook holding a golliwog.
Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell has refused to endorse any candidate in the race, but told HuffPost UK he believed the party needed to focus on economic reform.
He said: “The ruling elite believe in quantitative easing and hand outs for banks. It’s taking us ever close to destruction.
“We have broken the groupthink on Europe policy, we need to break the groupthink on monetary policy.”
The leadership result will be announced at 1.30pm on Friday.
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