Ukip row: Nigel Farage defiantly rebuffs calls for him to quit as party leader

Backing is growing for Douglas Carswell to replace Farage as party leader

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Nigel Farage has defiantly rebuffed calls for him to quit as Ukip leader, saying it would be a “massive, massive mistake” to have a contest so soon after the election.

As the party was convulsed by bitter recriminations over its general election campaign and the refusal of Mr Farage’s promised resignation, he came out fighting despite admitting he had lost the confidence of his party “big time”.

He insisted that he would not quit for a second time inside seven days and said in a text to The Independent that he was still leader “by a bigger margin than ever before”.

Speaking on Question Time, Mr Farage said he “did not recognise” Ukip election campaign manager Patrick O’Flynn’s description of him as a “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive man” in a newspaper interview.

 

“I was disappointed that a member of our team said this, but look, general elections you're under a huge amount of pressure and particularly it's like a boiler room, a pressure cooker,” he said.

“I'm sure the others would agree, and we maintained discipline as a party extraordinarily well during this general election compared with the past. The election's over, people are letting off steam, and we've seen one or two people fighting personal wars against each other.”

What Ukip needed, he argued, was strong leadership – by him.

Explaining his decision not to stand down, Mr Farage said he had gone into a meeting with the party’s national executive “determined to resign”, but was “quite frankly moved by the strength of their appeal and I said on that basis that I will continue”.

He predicted the referendum on leaving the European Union would be held in May next year, rather than in 2017, and said Ukip could not afford to spend potentially three months on a leadership election.

“The level of support for me in the party is phenomenal and frankly, to go through a leadership contest at a time when Mr Cameron says he's renegotiating our relationship with the European Union, would be a massive, massive mistake,” Mr Farage said.

“What people are looking for in politics is leaders who are assertive, that are not afraid to tell the truth even if they know it may not always be popular, leaders that have actually had a job in the real world, that have got some experience of life.

“Whatever my faults are, and perhaps they are many, I am in politics because I believe in what I say and I want this country to change.”

Earlier in the day, critics queued up to call for his departure, arguing that the time had come for a less confrontational figure to take over at the helm. There was growing backing in senior ranks for Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, to succeed him following the party’s failure to achieve a breakthrough at Westminster.

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Farage resigned after Ukip won just one seat (AFP/Getty)

The civil war was triggered by Mr O’Flynn’s explosive comments during which he warned the party was in danger of becoming a “personality cult”.

Mr Farage resigned as leader last Friday following his failure to win a Commons seat, but three days later the party’s ruling body said it had refused to accept his resignation because of overwhelming support among Ukip members.

But the former party leader Roger Knapman said: “He cannot take up and put down the leadership crown at will. It is time for the party members to have the opportunity to say whether or not they think there should be a leadership election.” The spread-betting millionaire Stuart Wheeler, who gave nearly £100,000 to Ukip’s election campaign, said: “I would like him to step down, at least for the moment.”

The Ukip treasurer, Hugh Williams, echoed growing fears that it was at risk of being viewed as “the Nigel Farage party rather than the UK Independence Party”

However, Farage loyalists closed ranks around him, praising his stewardship of the party and insisting he was the best person to make the case for Britain to leave the European Union in the referendum promised by David Cameron by 2017.

His deputy, Paul Nuttall, said: “Ukip has the best communicator in British politics leading this party and who will play a vital role during the referendum campaign.”

The strife came after the party won only one seat at the election despite coming third in the popular vote with 3.8 million votes. Internal critics have protested that too many resources were poured into his abortive attempt to win the seat of South Thanet.

Mr O’Flynn denied he was launching a coup and said Mr Farage was his “political hero”, tearing into “poisonous individuals” close to the leader.

One of the unnamed aides he is understood to have had in his sights, the party secretary Matthew Richardson, resigned. Shortly afterwards Raheem Kassam, whose contract was to end on 31 May, quit early as a senior adviser to the Ukip leader.

Mr Kassam attacked Mr O’Flynn as “wholly unprofessional”, claiming he had “some issues” and should resign as a party spokesman.

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