Former Ukip Diane James considering standing for Conservatives in 2020

MEP who led the party for just 18 days before she was 'forced out' is latest to consider turning Tory

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Diane James, who led UKIP for just 18 days after Nigel Farage quit, has said she is considering running for Parliament as a Conservative.

Ms James told Buzzfeed she thinks UKIP could be a party without a purpose once Brexit has been completed and suggested the party may have reached its sell-by date.

Ms James is the latest high-profile UKIP politician to desert the party following the defections of former MP Mark Reckless back to the Tories and of the party’s only sitting MP Douglas Carswell who announced last month he would become an independent.

She said she would stand for the Conservatives “if they had a manifesto that I could sign up to, and they gave me a reasonable chance – ie, if that seat was capable of being won.”

“I’m not going to waste my personal political capital and value being told to go and fight, for instance, Sadiq Khan’s old seat in London,” she added.

The Bedford-born politician said she would only stand in a seat that she has some personal connection to because she is “fed up with seeing people parachuted in.”

The former local councillor said suitable seats would include Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s Surrey constituency and others in Kent and Bedfordshire because of their proximity to her.

MEP Ms James comfortably won last summer’s contest to replace Mr Farage, who stood down in the wake of the Brexit vote.

But she had quit within a month, prompting a bitter battle which saw Paul Nuttall elected leader.

She issued a statement at the time saying it was clear she did not have “sufficient authority, nor the support of all my MEP colleagues and party officials to implement changes I believe necessary and upon which I based my campaign.”

“People have said I was a failure,” she said. “It's a chapter in my life I’m glad was over and done with so quickly. I campaigned hard to become leader, but fundamentally it wasn’t going to happen because at that point in time I could get absolutely nothing through in terms of modernising and professionalising the party.”

She admitted party in-fighting was a factor in her hasty departure and said she thought there was a coup, although she did not pinpoint the source.

“Yes, I think there was (a plot against her). It’s hard to point a finger.”

She said it was made clear to her that any attempts to change the governance of the party would be blocked.

Soon after stepping down as party leader Ms James quit UKIP altogether but has remained in the European Parliament as an independent MEP.

With all British MEPs to be made redundant once Brexit has concluded – exactly as UKIP wanted – Ms James said she is hoping to stand for Westminster at the 2020 election.

“At the moment I would agree it sounds like political opportunism but I’m just saying that at this time I want to make it to be abundantly clear I want to stand for the House of Commons,” she said.

She said it was most likely she will stand as an independent, but said she would consider standing either as a Conservative or for a new alliance.

But she said there is no chance of her standing either for UKIP or for the Labour Party because “that would stretch their credibility and my credibility”.

In the wake of Brexit, UKIP is appearing to implode with high-profile members deserting it and former chief donor Aaron Banks announcing his intention to set up a new Patriotic Alliance movement.

Ms James said she would not want to fight an election on an anti-immigration platform and hopes that other issues will be at the top of the agenda by 2020.

“I hope Brexit doesn’t dominate by 2020. I don’t think that in three years’ time the focus will be on the sort of issues which coloured the election and European elections and the referendum. People will have dealt with that one.

Ms James has stood for Parliament previously, coming second in the Eastleigh by-election in 2013 for UKIP with 27.8 per cent of the vote. She was also selected by UKIP to contest the North West Hampshire seat, but stood down “for personal reasons”.

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