Britain’s Eurosceptic UK Independence Party elected a new leader on Monday (28 November) – it’s fourth this year.
Paul Nuttall, an MEP originally from Liverpool, promised to unite the party, which has been rocked both by in-fighting among MEPs but also a deeper existential crisis in the wake of the successful June referendum to leave the EU.
The party’s most famous figure, Nigel Farage, resigned in the wake of the referendum, only to have to resume the role of party leader on a temporary basis, after his immediate successor, Diane James, stepped down after just 17 days.
In a sequence of events bordering on farcical, James only won the contest after the presumed frontrunner, Steven Woolfe, failed to submit his leadership papers on deadline.
After James quit, Woolfe again was presumed to be in pole position – until being poleaxed in an altercation with a fellow UKIP MEP in the parliament in Strasbourg.
Woolfe then left the party entirely last month, and is speculated to be thinking of joining Theresa May’s Conservative party.
Adding to the leadership fiasco, UKIP was accused this month of using EU funds to finance its Brexit campaign, in breach of party funding rules.
Britain’s Electoral Commission has also said it will investigate possible breaches of UK election law.
Nuttall, 39, is a fairly experienced media operator, who the party will be hoping will help capitalise on its strong result in the referendum across northern England.
A history lecturer who also lived briefly in Barcelona, Nuttall is not thought to be quite as ‘toxic’ to non-party members as Farage has proved. A keen Liverpool FC fan, he was at Hillsborough during the 1989 football disaster, which left 96 fans dead.
However, the party itself is believed to be down to around 30,000 registered members. With only one MP in the UK parliament – and that a defector from the Conservatives – and 24 in the European Parliament, the party under Farage always had a stronger media profile than its bare numbers suggested.
The MEPs will lose their posts when Britain leaves the EU.
In a series of tweets after winning, Nuttall pledged to “hold the government’s feet to the fire” over the terms of Brexit.
However, with Article 50 set to be triggered in the first quarter of 2017, and no plausible means to reverse Brexit, much of the impetus behind UKIP appears to be behind it.
In his farewell speech, Farage promised he would not be a “backseat driver” in the party but would see out his term as European Parliament lawmaker until 2020 and continue with his Brexit campaigning.
Farage said the European project was now “fatally weakened”, predicting setbacks in Austria, France, Italy and the Netherlands in the coming months.
“Be in no doubt that it is UKIP that is seen as the leading Eurosceptic group across the entire continent,” Farage said at a conference in London where the result of the leadership ballot of party members was announced.
Since stepping down as leader, Farage has spent time on the campaign trail in the US in support of Donald Trump and was quick to visit the president-elect in Trump Tower.
Trump, in return, suggested Farage should become UK ambassador in Washington.
Swapping his usual pint of beer for champagne at a party at London’s Ritz hotel this week, Farage reveled in the suggestion, holding up a tray of Ferrero Rocher chocolates in reference to the ambassador’s reception in an often parodied television advert.
In a speech to guests posted on YouTube, he said 2016 had been “the year of the big political revolution”.
“When people look back in 100 years, 200 years, 2016 will stand out as one of those great historic years,” he added.