Diane James will struggle to have the impact Farage had

The United Kingdom Independence Party now has a new leader.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 17th September 2016, 5:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 1:44 pm
Morning View
Morning View

Diane James, chair of Ukip, has won the contest to replace Nigel Farage.

She has huge shoes to fill.

Farage was almost a hate figure in metropolitan and liberal circles but he probably did more than anyone else to bring about Brexit.

Farage was able to connect with ordinary voters in a way that very few politicians are able to do.

He expressed blunt views but always had a laugh and was never far from a drink and – crucial to his success – never gave off an air of bitterness.

Farage manoeuvred Ukip to occupy ground once taken by the mainstream Conservative Party. At the last general election the Conservatives and Ukip took almost half of the UK-wide vote and 55% of the vote in England.

Ukip’s UK-wide share of the vote was a remarkable 14%.

For all their sneering, it was elitist dismissal of concerns about things such as aggressive Scottish nationalism, Brussels excesses and – perhaps most of all – immigration that led many Labour voters to back Brexit and, in some cases, Ukip. Farage understood this and knew how to connect with it.

He certainly was not a far right leader, in the despicable mould of some extremist groups on mainland Europe, but he was a traditional and unapologetic right wing Tory on many issues that resonate with blue collar workers.

Diane James will now find how important a political leader is to the success or otherwise of a party.

We might wish that it was otherwise, but voters do pay close attention to the leadership qualities of a party.

The Conservatives understand this and ruthlessly ditched Iain Duncan Smith before he had even fought a general election when they realised that voters did not warm to him.

Labour is now seeing how damaging it is to have leaders who are unable to command the respect of voters.