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The party that sparked Brexit worries about its future

A matter of months after the U.K. Independence Party achieved its founding aim of securing Britain's exit from the European Union, the party appears to be fighting for its political life. Long-time leader Nigel Farage quit just after the referendum to be replaced by Diane James, who lasted just 18 days in the job. Then after a fight in Brussels with a fellow UKIP member that ended in his hospitalisation, Steven Woolfe quit labelling the party "ungovernable".

In a bid to turn the party around, leadership candidate Suzanne Evans is calling for UKIP to reposition itself as a centrist political force. Speaking to CNBC on Thursday she argued: "There's a desperate need in British politics for that third party that sits at the centre ground, which both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have completely abandoned."

"I will ditch the right wing, Trump-style rhetoric and appeal to the common sense center," Evans added in a blog post.

Her comments appear aimed at rival UKIP leadership contender Raheem Kassam, whose campaign draws inspiration from Donald Trump's presidential bid. Indeed, his campaign slogan is "Make UKIP Great Again." The UKIP candidate has also praised the Republican presidential nominee's stance on NATO and his proposal to restrict Muslim immigration into the US.


But according to bookmakers' odds, both Kassam and Evans trail the frontrunner Paul Nuttall in the race to become the next UKIP leader.

Nuttall is running on a ticket to make UKIP the party of the "common man and woman" and aims to entice voters away from Labour in the north of England.


Poll research suggests attempts to rebrand UKIP as a centrist party may prove unpopular with its existing supporters. The study found that 69 percent of UKIP members identify as being right of centre, while just 15 percent consider themselves centrists.

Evans told CNBC the issues of immigration and EU-UK relations would remain UKIP's prime focus under her leadership. However, she also promised to take steps to increase the party's representation in parliament and popularity among women.

UKIP currently only has 1 member of parliament, despite the party receiving a 12.6 percent share of the vote in the 2015 general election.

While the UKIP leadership contenders might be split over the party's future direction, they're broadly united in their criticism of the Conservative government's response to the Brexit vote.

In an interview with CNBC, Evans said: "One of my first jobs as the leader of UKIP would be to start campaigning to leave the European Union straight away, because I think we've faffed about far too much."

Nuttall echoed this sentiment in his leadership declaration, writing: "Britain now needs a strong UKIP more than ever, to hold the government's feet to the fire in the Brexit negotiations."

Voting in the UKIP leadership contest begins from the 11th of November. The winner will be announced on November 28th.


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