Steven Woolfe quits 'ungovernable' Ukip
Former leadership frontrunner says party is in a 'death spiral' without Nigel Farage at the helm
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Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe has quit the party, saying "damaging infighting" has pushed the party into a "death spiral".
The politician was widely seen as a frontrunner to take over the leadership following the resignation of Diane James at the beginning of this month after 18 days in the job.
However, he has been under pressure to step down since an altercation in Strasbourg with fellow Ukip MEP Mike Hookem, who Woolfe claims "landed a blow" on his face that put him in hospital for three days.
Hookem denies the allegation and yesterday repeated his claim that the MEP had "shown disloyalty" by considering a defection to the Conservatives.
Revealing his decision to step down, Woolfe said the party had become "ungovernable".
"What happened in Strasbourg, combined with the infighting and toxicity since the summer, have demonstrated to me one cold, hard fact," he writes in the Daily Telegraph.
"Ukip without Nigel Farage leading it and the Brexit cause to unify it has resorted to damaging infighting.
"The party I joined in 2011 is now ungovernable... It lacks direction, purpose and any semblance of professional organisation."
Woolfe has indicated he will stay on as an independent MEP.
"The Ukip leadership contest is now wide open, but there are serious doubts about its viability as a political force without Farage, the exodus of supporters to the Tories, and questions about whether [major donor Arron Banks] will continue to back the party financially," says The Guardian.
Steven Woolfe 'smiling and well' after altercation with Ukip colleague
Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe is said to recovering well in hospital in Strasbourg after an altercation with one of his colleagues in the European Parliament yesterday.
It has been alleged that Mike Hookem, the party's defence spokesman and an RAF veteran, was also involved in the dispute.
"Accounts of what followed vary, with Mr Woolfe quoted in the Daily Mail as saying a punch was thrown at him," says the BBC.
Ukip has refused to confirm the reports, the Daily Telegraph says, and Hookem has denied punching his colleague, saying they had a "verbal altercation" instead.
Woolfe collapsed two hours after the incident and suffered two seizures before being taken to a hospital. A brain scan revealed no bleeding or clots.
"At the moment I am feeling brighter, happier, and smiling as ever," the MEP said last night. "As a precaution, I am being kept in overnight awaiting secondary tests to make sure everything [is] fine."
The altercation occurred during a heated Ukip meeting aimed at healing divisions that have erupted since the vote for Brexit.
"Party insiders said that the row erupted when Mr Woolfe admitted he had considered defecting to the Tories having been 'enthused' by Theresa May," says the Telegraph. "During the meeting one MEP said he wanted to 'take this outside' and the pair later clashed after leaving the room."
Woolfe insisted he "wasn't bruising for a scrap".
It is the second time this week that Ukip has been plunged into chaos. On Tuesday night, leader Diane James announced she was standing down from her position after just 18 days, prompting Nigel Farage to return to the helm.
Woolfe had been the favourite to succeed Farage in September's leadership election, but missed out on running after submitting his application papers too late.
An investigation has been launched into yesterday's altercation, with Ukip chairman Paul Oakden vowing "appropriate action would be taken".
The party's interim leader, however, dismissed the incident. It was "one of those things that happens between men", said Farage.
"I don't see any need for the police to be involved, there are no complaints," he added.
But major Ukip donor Arron Banks issued a statement threatening to withdraw support for the party, claiming it was at "breaking point".
Steven Woolfe collapses after 'altercation' with Ukip colleague
Steven Woolfe, the favourite to become the next leader of Ukip, has collapsed in Strasbourg amid reports he was punched by a colleague.
The MEP was one of the first contenders to throw his hat into the ring after Diane James stepped down as leader of the party late on Wednesday.
He was rushed to hospital this morning.
Ukip's former leader Nigel Farage, who has stepped back into the role as an interim measure, issued a statement to say: "I deeply regret that following an altercation that took place at a meeting of MEPs this morning that Steven Woolfe subsequently collapsed and was taken to hospital. His condition is serious."
Party insiders told the Daily Telegraph Woolfe was "punched by a Ukip colleague". The newspaper says it understands he is "suffering from bleeding of the brain", with one witness claiming he fell into a window after the blow.
Suzanne Evans, Ukip's former deputy chairman, wished Woolfe a "speedy recovery", while Raheem Kassam, who is also a contender in the leadership race, said he had cancelled an appearance on BBC's Daily Politics "out of respect".
Steven Woolfe: Who is the former barrister hoping to lead Ukip?
Ukip was pitched into a second leadership contest in a month this week, after Diane James stood down after just 18 days as leader.
The fight is already on, with former favourite Steven Woolfe, who was eliminated from the election last time after failing to submit his documents in time, throwing his hat into the ring.
His decision concludes a remarkable 24 hours that have seen Nigel Farage returning as interim leader.
James said she was quitting because she did not have the support of senior party figures and would not be able to meet her campaign pledges. Other reports cited her husband's illness and suggested she was worried about becoming a national hate figure after a verbal attack last week left her badly shaken. She is also said to have been left isolated by warring factions within the party.
So, who is Steven Woolfe?
Woolfe, who turns 49 today, is a former barrister and Ukip's immigration spokesman.
He was born into a Labour-supporting family and grew up on a council estate in Manchester before winning a scholarship to St Bede's College in the city and then studying law at Aberystwyth University.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, the MEP for North West England said it was the party's former leader, Farage, who had inspired him to get into politics. "He took on the establishment and won," he said, adding: "We must now build on his legacy."
Woolfe has been keen to emphasise his multicultural heritage – he has African-American, Jewish and Irish Catholic roots - and his appointment as leader "could help Ukip shake off persistent accusations that it has attracted supporters with racist views", The Guardian says.
What does he stand for?
His main focus is on social mobility, saying he is "living proof of our own 'British dream' – the chance to succeed in life, no matter your postcode, your gender or the colour of your skin".
As for Brexit, Woolfe says the will of the people must be respected, the Daily Express reports.
"The people voted to leave the single market, control its own borders, sign a free trade deal with Europe and take back control of its fishing waters," Woolfe has said, adding: "Brexit must mean Brexit - no backsliding, no side-stepping, no Brexit-lite."
He has also pledged to "ruthlessly" target Labour seats in the north of England and the Midlands. "Now run by a group of metropolitan, out-of-touch, liberal elitists from their multi-million-pound Islington townhouses, Labour has abandoned its working class base and is imploding before our very eyes," he said.
What are his chances of winning?
Bookies had already installed the MEP as 1/2 favourite before he said he would run for a second time.
Woolfe "is a dream for Ukip", says Benedict Spence in The Independent. "Well-spoken, well-dressed, without any of the fire and brimstone that so polarised viewers of Farage."
The politician is also an assured speaker, while his mixed-race parentage and upbringing in Manchester's tough Moss Side estate is "a nightmare for Labour", says Spence. As the party "digs itself ever deeper into self-indulgent student politics", Woolfe "could be the man to break their stranglehold on Northern constituencies that voted solidly for Brexit", he adds.