28/08/2017 08:01 BST

Why Even Ukip-ers Want Rid Of Their Anti-Islam Leadership Candidate

But far-right expert warns Anne-Marie Waters policies could be popular with the public.

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Leadership battles in political parties are notoriously bad-tempered affairs, but Ukip seem determined to take it to a whole new level.

This week, one of the ten candidates in the race to succeed Paul Nuttall started legal proceedings to get a rival – the controversial Anne Marie Waters – thrown off the ballot.

Former solider and police officer Henry Bolton claimed allowing Waters to stand was in “violation of the party’s Rules of Procedures”, but he later withdrew his challenge because of fears of counter-law suits.

In a statement, Bolton held nothing back as he tore into the party’s decision to let Waters take part in the election: “The decision to allow Anne-Marie Waters to stand places the credibility of the party, and therefore its ability to hold the government to account over Brexit, in jeopardy.”

Anne Marie Waters at leadership hustings in West Sussex.

What is it about Waters that threatens the “credibility” of Ukip? The former Labour activist has become notorious for her crusade against Islam, but her rhetoric proved too much for Ukip in the 2017 General Election, with the party barring her from standing on a purple ticket.

Despite threats of the mass resignation of Ukip MEPs, the party allowed her on to the ballot for the leadership contest – seemingly unable to find an excuse to ban her.

She is proving popular at hustings, and is trying to show members she is not a single-issue candidate by attacking left-wing teachers, resisting privatisation to the NHS and calling for police forces to be beefed up.

But immigration and Islam are the main themes she keeps returning to, and the ones she gets the most passionate about.

Speaking at hustings at Burgess Hill in West Sussex on Monday August 14, Waters left audience members in no doubt on her views on immigration and identity:

“I’m a democrat. It is my firm belief that a government of the country has a moral and democratic obligation to represent the interests of those who voted for them and not those who are coming for example from the other side of the world. Our own people must come first.”

“I do not believe that we should open the borders of this country to any country which has a culture which is incompatible with us. We have and are importing a crime wave in terms of cultural crimes Finally, the benefits must stop. People are coming here because they know perfectly well it will be handed out…”

“We must keep reminding people of what their children and grandchildren will be born into. People are not concerned about a Spanish person living up the road. What they are concerned about is thousands upon thousands, tens, hundreds of thousands of welfare dependents coming from the third world.”

The language is uncompromising and divisive. But Waters believes “millions of people out there agree with me.” At the hustings she cites a poll which claims 47% of Brits think Islam is incompatible with British society. Waters is clear that Ukip’s future should be focused on chasing those voters.

But would pursuing such a hardline policy help Ukip recover from its dire polling numbers?

Paul Stocker, author of ‘English Uprising: Brexit and the Mainstreaming of the Far-Right’, believes “there would definitely be support for these policies”, but a Waters-led Ukip would struggle thanks to her reputation. As Waters has acknowledged herself, she has been labelled “a socialist, a fascist, a neo-Nazi” by her opponents.

“The far right in England has always done badly because of its brand, not even the ideas themselves,” Stocker told HuffPost UK, adding: “Her association with other groups, such as Sharia Watch and Pegida UK, and people such as Tommy Robinson is a very big disadvantage.”

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Anne Marie Waters, Tommy Robinson and PEGIDA UK leader Paul Weston in 2016.

Stocker’s book chronicles how despite far-right rhetoric and policies being a virtually constant presence in UK politics since the Victorian age, no party has managed to break through at the ballot box.

But, as Stocker says: “Everything is very volatile at the moment, we need to be careful about writing Ukip off.”

For all the handwringing going on among some in Ukip at Waters inclusion in the leadership race, her politics could be seen as the natural conclusion of the journey the party has been traveling on for many years.

When Waters told party members “Brexit is immigration and we must remember to combine the two”, she was merely repeating the line that Nigel Farage had so successfully taken in recent years.

Even the focus on challenging Islam is not entirely new. Ukip’s most recent General Election campaign was built on an “integration agenda” which included banning the burka in public and carrying out compulsory vaginal examinations on girls deemed to be risk of female genital mutilation.

Ukip launched this agenda just days after the Manchester Arena bombing, which saw a fanatical Muslim kill 23 concert-goers and himself in a suicide attack. Did a wave of anti-Islam feeling in the country translate into a surge at the ballot box?

No – Ukip lost the only seat it was defending (Clacton) and picked up 590,000 votes across the country – a huge drop on the 3.8million it secured two years earlier.

True, the party did not stand in more than 40% of the seats, but there is no disguising the fact that Ukip’s popularity took a dramatic nosedive. 

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Nigel Farage made immigration front and centre of his Brexit campaigning.

One area to see a fall in voters – although not in such a dramatic fashion as other seats – was Thurrock in South Essex.

In 2015, Tim Aker came within 974 votes of winning the seat from the Tories in a tight threeway race with Labour.

Two years later, and Aker finished third again, but saw his vote share fell by 12% as the Tories and Labour each polled more than 9,000 votes than Ukip.

The MEP – who was considered a rising star in party in 2015 when initially tasked to write that year’s General Election manifesto – is clear where the party went wrong in June.

After describing a typical day of someone getting up, taking their children to school, going to work and then returning home, Aker said: “We said nothing that would make that person’s life easier - we had nothing to offer.”

As a local councillor – as well as an MEP – Aker strongly believes that “pavement politics” is key if Ukip wants to firmly embed itself as political party – a tactic used by the Liberal Democrats in the 1990s.

He believes in order to connect with ordinary voters, “Ukip’s heart should be on the right and its wallet should be on the left.”

Aker is also clear on what the party must not do – become a single-issue pressure group.

“People don’t have a single-issue election, they vote based on a whole load of things.”

He adds: “Just pointing at a group of people saying ‘aren’t they bad’ gets you nowhere at all.”

Waters may be unpopular with some of her other leadership contenders - David Coburn has described her as talking “absolute nonsense” - but she is picking up the applause at hustings.

There are also concerns that far-right activists have infiltrated Ukip in order to vote for Waters, although Coburn insisted in an interview with Core Politics that it was “not to a great degree”.

London Assembly member Peter Whittle remains the favourite to be unveiled as the new leader at the party’s conference in Torquay on September 29, but even if Waters come second, it will put her brand of politics at the heart of Ukip.

Some would argue it’s been there for a while.