The Blog

If Raheem Kassam Is The Best UKIP Can Offer, It's Screwed

Ukip is embroiled in its second leadership election since last month and things have already become extremely ugly. With the amount of venom the party produces, it seems more like a snake pit than a credible political movement.

This current battle is the result of Diane James, who won a leadership election in September, deciding 18 days into the job that it would not be possible to make changes within the party she felt were necessary.

Disturbingly reminiscent of an abduction victim scrawling HELP on a window, James wrote the Latin for "under duress" on an Electoral Commission document that was meant to formalise her position of leader.

As a result of James escaping the role, Nigel Farage, who has quit as leader more times than the party has elected an MP, had to return as interim leader.

When asked about James' resignation, Farage told Huff Post: "We're all a bit surprised, but look, it's a rotten job. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." This statement makes the viciousness of the current leadership battle seem even more peculiar.

The current favourites for the leadership are Paul Nuttall, Suzanne Evans and Raheem Kassam. Another favourite, Steven Woolfe, has withdrawn after allegedly being "tussled" unconscious as a result of an altercation with Ukip colleague Mike Hookem. Some regard Raheem Kassam as the frontrunner. He is editor of the UK branch of Breitbart News, a right-wing website known mainly for stirring up controversy and supporting Trump.

Farage leapt to Kassam's defence on Sunday morning after Suzanne Evans suggested he is attempting to shift Ukip to the far-right. She had said on The Andrew Marr Show: "I don't see a groundswell of opinion in this country for more far-right wing policies." Marr then asked if she thought Kassam is taking the party in a "far-right direction", to which Evans replied: "Yes, absolutely, I don't think there's any doubt about that". She also described Ukip as "toxic".

An angry looking Farage rebuked Evans shortly afterwards on Peston on Sunday, stating: "For her to talk about the party being toxic, for her to already declare one of the candidates who is running, Raheem Kassam, as far-right, I don't view this as being a very good start."

Kassam himself played down the accusation, telling Sky News that he doesn't consider himself to be far-right and said Evans' comments were "just politics". I found it extremely interesting that he glossed over it in that way, as throughout my life to call someone far-right would be an exceptionally damning thing to say. I'm sure most prospective politicians would be visibly outraged.

Having said that, as a moderate person who enjoyed growing up in a multicultural country, Breitbart does seem rather far to the right to me. The content feels xenophobic, and antagonistic towards immigrants, Muslims and feminists especially.

Breitbart's most famous commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, an attention hungry embittered college failure, received a life-long Twitter ban this year after a series of tweets attacking actress Leslie Jones. He had called her "barely literate" and "a black dude" and others then joined in with foul racist abuse. In a statement following the ban, Twitter referred to inciting or engaging in targeted abuse or harassment.

Raheem Kassam might argue that he is responsible for Breitbart content but not Yiannopoulos' abusive outbursts on Twitter - although any respectable 'news' outlet would take action against tweets that would bring the organisation into disrepute. But this is the key point, despite tweets that can clearly be seen as racist and misogynistic, fans of Yiannopoulos find his puerile poison desirable. It is as though he and Breitbart are a mouthpiece for vile and impotent people, therefore such antics drive traffic to the site.

If Kassam does become Ukip leader, he will have to find a way to distance himself from material that less extremist Ukip supporters would find offensive. However, he cannot distance himself from his own material, for example a tweet from June in which he suggested SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon's mouth should be taped shut, which seemed misogynistic enough, but he also proposed that her legs should be taped "so she can't reproduce".

When challenged about this at the weekend, he called an SNP MP Stewart McDonald a Nazi. When it was pointed out to him that Nicola Sturgeon has had a miscarriage he claimed he didn't know about that and accused the MP of "trying to score points off a tragedy."

If Kassam is the best that Ukip can offer, then it is hard to see how the party can ever earn enough credibility to get more than occasional Westminster seats from the odd defecting Tory. The new Ukip leader will be announced at the end of November. In the meantime, more will be dug up about each of the candidates. In Kassam's case, people will not have to dig very deep to find things that any decent person would find reprehensible.