THE BLOG

If Nigel Farage Really Wanted Douglas Carswell to 'Put Up or Shut Up' He Should Call a Leadership Election

18/12/2015 12:59 GMT | Updated 18/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, right?

That is very much the thought of Nigel Farage and his close allies at the top of Ukip.

The leader has been paranoid for most of this year that those around him have kept knives hidden under their coats, ready to strike at any moment.

Douglas Carswell's comments today only confirm his view, and those of his advisors, that some in the party are indeed plotting to oust him.

As one source at the top of the party put it: "They all think they are in an episode of House of Cards."

You only need to look at the response from Farage - "put up or shut up" - to see that he feels Carswell is desperate for the top job for himself.

Of course if Farage really wanted his critics to "put up or shut up" he should emulate another party leader who used those words - John Major in 1995.

In an attempt to face down those constantly sniping at him, Major called a leadership election, which he won.

Of course, if Farage had done the same thing in May instead of 'unresigning', he would not be in this position.

Had he won, he would have secured an endorsement for the way the General Election campaign was conducted. Those who took a different view, such as Carswell, would know they had little support in the party for a change of direction.

Farage could of course call a leadership election now. He would easily win such a vote, as he is still incredibly popular with the party's membership.

The majority of Ukip's MEPs would fall in line behind him, and even those who would like to see him gone recognise this is not the time for a divisive and toxic leadership election.

But as with Major in 1995, any leadership election would not act as a cathartic bad-blood letting exercise. It would merely postpone the real knifing, which is certainly coming.

The plots are still in the early stage, and comments like the kind from Farage today actually pull dissidents together instead of pushing them apart.

Of course the first attempt to get rid of Farage this year came came from Farage himself.

In the run up to General Election he announced he would quit as leader if he didn't win in South Thanet.

He didn't win. He didn't quit.

Rumours then began swirling around Camp Farage that Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans and MEP Patrick O'Flynn were planning to overthrow the leader.

In fact, the only people Evans, O'Flynn and Carswell wanted to overthrow at this point were the group of advisors around the leadership - Raheem Kassam and Matthew Richardson in particular.

And they were successful. For about a month.

Kassam returned to right-wing news site Breitbart as editor-in-chief, and you only have to take a cursory glance at all the pro-Farage news articles to wonder if the two really are no longer in cahoots.

Party Secretary Matthew Richardson clearly took lessons in unresigning from Farage, as within weeks he was back in his job.

O'Flynn and Evans were stripped of their roles at the top of the party, and Farage seemed more powerful - and safe - than ever.

But ironically, the whole debacle created more plots than it thwarted.

People in the party who had never considered lining up against their leader were dismayed by the unresignation, and an anti-Farage camp began to form.

Whispers began reaching Farage's ears of plots against him.

Just last week the party's immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe was hauled in front of MEPs accused of organizing a coup against the leader, something a source at the top of the party assures me was a trumped-up charge.

Carswell's comments today, that the party needs a "fresh face", will further led to paranoia that a coup being plotted.

But even those who are sympathetic to Carswell's view, and really would like to see Farage toppled from his purple throne, agree this isn't the right time for such an action.

The European Union Referendum is likely to be in the next 12 months, and a potentially bitter leadership battle would not paint those who want to leave the EU in a good light with the public.

Farage is lucky the referendum is on the horizon, as it is providing a shield against what is really going on with the party.

Look at the result in this month's Oldham West and Royton by-election.

It was supposed to be another victory in Ukip's ongoing battle in the north of England - instead the party finished more than 10,000 votes behind Labour.

Donations are drying up, and the Ukip-backed Leave.eu campaign is not certain to get the official designation as the main 'Out' group in the referendum.

That would leave Ukip - and Farage - on the periphery of the one campaign they are so desperate to be front and centre of.

For now Farage does not need to sleep with one eye open, or ask someone else to taste his beer to see if it has been poisoned.

But after the referendum, all those in Ukip he has briefed against, sacked, overlooked, and ostracised will be ready with very sharp knives.