By Andrew Osborn
Britain’s anti-EU UK Independence Party was consumed by bitter infighting on Thursday after winning just one seat in a national election with the party’s campaign chief accusing leader Nigel Farage of making it look like a “personality cult.”
UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and for immigration to be sharply curbed, attracted 12.6 percent support and almost 3.9 million votes in an election won by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives last Thursday.
But the country’s winner-takes-all electoral system meant it won just one of 650 parliamentary seats, angering many of its supporters who had high hopes of success after the party triumphed in European elections in Britain last year.
Campaign chief Patrick O’Flynn on Thursday told The Times newspaper he feared Farage had gone from being a “cheerful, ebullient, cheeky” politician to a “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive” man.
Aside from unease about the UKIP leader’s behaviour, the infighting is being fuelled by a long-running struggle between the left and right of the party for its future direction and a clash over how much public money it should access.
Farage had promised to quit if he failed to win a seat. He did stand down, but raised eyebrows among some activists when he returned to the leadership after just three days, saying the party had persuaded him to do so despite his vote defeat.
Farage has since become embroiled in a public row with Douglas Carswell, the party’s only lawmaker, over how much public money the party should take based on its election performance.
Carswell, who defected from the Conservatives last year, argues that taking the full amount it is entitled to would look excessive. Farage has been trying to persuade him to back down.
“What’s happened … has certainly laid us open to the charge that this looks like an absolutist monarchy or a personality cult,” said O’Flynn, who is also a UKIP lawmaker in the European Parliament.
“I don’t think that even Nigel would say it’s been the most glorious chapter of his leadership,” he said, blaming Farage’s advisers for his performance.
Farage’s top adviser did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Farage was expected to respond to O’Flynn’s remarks later on Thursday.
Arron Banks, a businessman who is one of the party’s main donors, defended Farage.
He told the BBC that Farage had “given his all” to build UKIP and that he “deserved a rest rather than petty squabbling from lesser people”.