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Ukip council leader Chris Wells drops hint that he could join race to be party leader

By Paul Francis

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The leader of Thanet council could throw his hat in the ring in the battle to become the next UKIP leader, we can reveal.

Cllr Chris Wells is pondering what would be an audacious move for the top job after a week which has seen internal divisions within the party spill out into the open.

Mr Wells left open the possibility that he could join the race during an interview on the latest edition of KMTV's “Paul On Politics” this weekend.

Although stopping short of an outright declaration, he intimated that it was something he was weighing up.

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Thanet council leader Cllr Chris Wells
Thanet council leader Cllr Chris Wells

He emphasised that because of the timing of the shock decision of Diane James to throw in the towel after 18 days, he was now eligible to stand under party rules that say contenders must be in the party for a minimum of two years.

Asked if he was intending to enter the contest himself, he told our political editor Paul Francis: “Well, when it first came up, it was suggested...now it is being re-run, I have my two-year qualification this month, so watch this space - you never know.”

Responding to the claim that the party was in disarray, he acknowledged that recent events had not shown the party in a good light.

Councillor Chris Wells, leader of Thanet council
Councillor Chris Wells, leader of Thanet council

“It is pretty clear cut that whoever was going to take over from Nigel Farage was always going to have a pretty tough job,” he said.

It is understood that Mr Wells will wait to see if any MEPs in the UKIP group are to contest the leadership.

In particular, if Steven Woolfe, the MEP involved in an altercation with colleague Mike Hookem, does stand then Mr Wells is unlikely to join the race.

The latest edition of KMTV's Paul on Politics with Chris Wells, Thanet council leader and Vince Maple, leader of the Labour group on Medway Council
The latest edition of KMTV's Paul on Politics with Chris Wells, Thanet council leader and Vince Maple, leader of the Labour group on Medway Council

It is difficult to predict what the council leader’s prospects might be and while the party has remained in control of Thanet, it has not been without its setbacks.

He has faced claims this week that the party was reneging on a key election pledge to re-open Manston airport after a report by industry experts cast doubt on whether a cargo hub would be commercially viable.

Since winning the council election in 2015, UKIP has suffered a series of defections and for a period lost a working majority. Having said that, its support has held up relatively well in by-elections and it recently took two seats that meant it regained control of the authority.

Video: The latest edition of Paul on Politics discusses the post-Brexit landscape and the fate of UKIP

If he does enter the contest, he would be able to say that unlike some, he has had direct experience of leadership - albeit one that has had mixed reviews.

He is close to Nigel Farage and the pair worked closely together in Thanet in the election campaign.

However, the former leader, now back in control on a temporary basis, has said he will not endorse any candidate.

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