There is no set way for a party leader to behave on stepping down. Some prefer to hold their tongue in retirement and speak up on select occasions. This has been Sir John Major’s approach, after he declared on leaving Downing Street: “When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage—and that is what I propose to do”. His intervention on Brexit last night has not escaped criticism though, as Boris Johnson used his address to the British Chambers of Commerce this afternoon to mock the “ prognostications of gloom“. The Foreign Secretary’s rebuke was much more diplomatic than the response given by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, which led James Kirkup to lament their tendency to resort to “personal vitriol” and “talk of plots”.
Sir John Major prefers as a former party leader to hold fire, so as to maximize his impact when he goes in all-guns blazing. Nigel Farage’s strategy could not be more different, as he has kept up a sustained barrage since stepping down. His latest target is one of his favourites – Douglas Carswell. The Ukip MP has earned his ire now after emails leaked to the Telegraph suggested he was not pushing wholeheartedly for Mr Farage to receive a knighthood. The messages were proof, Mr Farage declared, that he was “consumed with jealousy and a desire to hurt me”.
The former Ukip leader wants his successor, Paul Nuttall, to punish Mr Carswell by kicking him out of the party. The Clacton MP should be meeting with party chairman Paul Oakden this afternoon, so disciplinary action could be in the offing. But Mr Nuttall knows that if does sack Mr Carswell, as I’ve written online, he would inevitably re-open the splits that he had only just managed to cover. Meanwhile if he doesn’t, Faragistas will take this as proof that he is working with Mr Carswell and his “elitist cabal” ( as one Ukip MEP put it) to desecrate Mr Farage’s legacy.
As Paul Nuttall works out how to appease the Carswellites and the Faragistas, he must be wishing that his predecessor wasn’t quite so eager to stir things up.
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