Election results: Nigel Farage quits - to consider becoming leader again

Farage dropped a powerful hint that he was not so much resigning as taking a summer break

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Indy Politics

Describing himself as a “man of my word”, Nigel Farage kept the promise he made during the campaign that he would quit the Ukip leadership if he failed to win a seat in the Commons. But speaking after missing out in South Thanet – almost in the same breath – he dropped a powerful hint that he was not so much resigning as taking a summer break, during which his deputy Suzanne Evans is expected be interim leader.

“There will be a leadership election for the next leader of Ukip in September and I will consider over the course of this summer whether to put my name forward to do that job again,” Mr Farage  said.

The news that the Conservative Craig Mackinlay had won South Thanet, with a majority of 2,808 over Ukip’s talisman, was greeted in the hall with derisive cries of “Bye, bye, Nigel.” It was the former city broker’s sixth unsuccessful attempt to win a parliamentary seat.

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Craig Mackinlay (right) after winning the South Thanet seat, beside defeated rivals Nigel Farage and Al Murray (AP)

A triumphant Mr Mackinlay said: “It was here that the political ground was supposed to shake… but the country has not experienced an earthquake or even a tremor.”

The defeat was a shock for Ukip workers who had put their faith in an opinion poll by Survation commissioned two weeks before polling day by the party’s backer Alan Bown, which gave Mr Farage a comfortable nine-point lead over Mr Mackinlay.

Ukip was also looking forward to capturing a handful other seats - such as Castle Point and Thurrock in Essex, Dudley North in the West Midlands, and Great Grimsby – but in each the incumbent party held on.

 

The Survation poll in South Thanet may have contributed to Mr Farage’s defeat because – as one Conservative worker put it – “it frightened the horses” and galvanised Conservative Campaign Headquarters into sending three professionals for the last week of the campaign.

The long delay in announcing the South Thanet result, which was not known until after 10.30am yesterday, appeared to give Mr Farage time to come to terms with defeat. He arrived at the count proclaiming that he had enjoyed an excellent night’s sleep, and declared: “Personally, I feel an enormous weight lifted from my shoulders. I have never felt happier.”

Even before the announcement, leading Ukip members including the economics spokesman Patrick O’Flynn and Bootle candidate Paul Nuttall said that they intended to plead with Mr Farage not to abandon the leadership. Without Mr Farage, Ukip might struggle to find a leader who can appeal both to former Tory voters in the south and former Labour voters in the north.

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Farage addresses the media on polling day (AFP/Getty Images)

Losing South Thanet was the final blow in a disappointing night for Ukip. Though about one vote in eight cast backed Ukip, giving them four times as many votes as in the 2010 general election, they were left with only one MP, the former Tory defector Douglas Carswell, who held his seat in Clacton. Mark Reckless, the other former Tory MP who defected to Ukip and held onto his seat in Rochester and Strood in a by-election last year was defeated by a margin of more than 7,000 votes by the Conservative, Kelly Tolhurst.

But the political map of England and Wales is now covered in seats where Ukip came second, including a large number in the Labour heartlands in Wales and the north of England, proving Nigel Farage’s contention that they have been taking votes from Labour as well as the Tories.

“The new Ukip voter is predominantly working class, very much younger than it was before, and I would characterise our strength in this constituency – and it has been seen all over the country – young working couples and, in particular, young women now voting Ukip,” Mr Farage claimed yesterday.

Winning only one seat with four million votes has given Ukip a powerful incentive to push for a change to the UK’s “first-past-the-post” voting system. Mr Farage said the result showed the need for “real, genuine, radical political reform.”

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