The race to succeed Nigel “Thirsty” Farage as leader of UKIP has been well and truly joined, and the favourite appears to be Steven Woolfe, like Farage one of the party’s MEPs. One uses the word “appears” advisedly, as Woolfe is having trouble getting his name on the ballot. He may also have problems explaining away two other minor matters in his past that have come to light recently.
Woolfe’s problems began on Sunday. Having left the submission of his application until the last moment, he was 17 minutes beyond the deadline, although he claimed it was not his fault: “Mr Woolfe blamed a technical blunder for missing Ukip's leadership nominations deadline, leaving his bid in the hands of party officials … Mr Woolfe insists he is still in the race despite overshooting the deadline of noon on Sunday”.
Who will make the decision on his candidature? “The party made it clear there would be no final decision until the completion of vetting procedures on Tuesday”. And there was another potential problem: “Mr Woolfe has also denied allegations that he allowed his membership to lapse in 2014, which raised issues about his eligibility under controversial new party rules”. But that was only the start of his troubles.
The Mail is all over his past as well: “Ukip leadership favourite forgot drink-drive charge: Steven Woolfe faces being kicked out of the race after failing to declare conviction”. He ran for Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012, but having been convicted of any offence for which jail is a potential outcome disqualifies any applicant. Drink driving falls into that category. Whether the conviction is spent is irrelevant.
Woolfe’s excuse is that he somehow forgot about it. That may not convince the assembled Kippers later today. But what is worse still is that he has given the impression that he is a barrister, when he is not. Nor has he explained how he came to cease being a barrister. Indeed, the Sun’s take on him, claiming “The barrister wants the party to fill the space left by Jeremy Corbyn and his warring factions” is still live.
That story goes on “The 48-year-old barrister is favourite to take over from Nigel Farage in a leadership race which starts in earnest today”. But the Barristers’ Register of the Bar Standards Board cannot locate anyone called Steven Woolfe. The BBC has hinted at his no longer practising, telling “Steven qualified initially as a barrister but moved into financial services and is presently legal adviser to a company whose clients include hedge funds”.
And The Week describes him as “The former barrister hoping to lead Ukip”. Yet Woolfe has not yet moved to explain why this should be. Why did Woolfe cease to be a practising barrister? Did some event occur that caused the BSB to take action? Was it merely a personal choice? And why is he waiting for the questions to be asked before getting the information out there? There’s another one for the party’s vetting procedures.
One dodgy leader to be replaced by another? It could only be UKIP.