Nigel Farage is not the right person to lead Ukip and is preventing better, younger candidates from progressing in the party – according to Godfrey Bloom.
Mr Bloom, a former Ukip MEP who was kicked out of the party over a series of scandals that included attacking aid to “Bongo-Bongo land”, said Mr Farage was a very good “salesman” but that he should not be party leader.
The pair shared a flat in Brussels for several years while serving in the European Parliament, but when asked if he thought Mr Farage was “intelligent”, Mr Bloom paused before replying: “In what way?”
The comments came as the Ukip leader prepared to face off against his Lib Dem counterpart Nick Clegg in a second televised debate, broadcast on the BBC tonight.
And they could prove a setback coming from a man who described himself in an interview with the Telegraph as the only other person from Ukip that anyone had heard of. Though he now serves as an independent MEP, he remains a member of the party.
Mr Bloom told the newspaper: “Nigel has been doing it for 20 years, and one might argue that’s too long.
“He’s done an extremely good job as a salesman. But let me say this – as a businessman, I would personally not make my best salesman the managing director or chairman of the board.
“I think in order for somebody to come to the surface of the party – and we have a lot of bright young people at Ukip – it’s time [for him to step down].”
Ahead of the European elections in May and next year’s general election, Mr Bloom said Ukip needed to “sharpen its game”.
Opinion polls nonetheless suggested that the party came off better in the first leaders’ debate with the Lib Dems last week, which included arguments over immigration figures and the number of laws coming out of Brussels.
But Mr Farage has been criticised in recent days after saying he regarded the Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a formidable operator” – a point he clarified this week.
Mr Clegg has already branded the comments “grotesque” and “extreme”, and is almost certain to raise them during the discussion.
Ukip membership is said to have surged over 25,000 in the LBC radio hosted debate last Wednesday, and party strategists will be hoping he can raise their profile further.
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg is seeking to gain wider advantage by painting himself as a conviction politician - and the only genuine pro-European among the main three leaders.
A poster launched by the party ahead of the showdown on BBC2 this evening mocks David Cameron and Ed Miliband as “missing in action”, saying the Liberal Democrats are the only ones “standing up for British jobs”.
Party president Tim Farron said: “David Cameron and Ed Miliband have ducked these debates. Nick Clegg is the only political leader prepared to put his neck on the line and stand up for British jobs.”