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New leader for UKIP could create headache for David Cameron

By Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-08-17 at 07.53.52 He's only been leader of UKIP for one year but Lord Pearson of Rannoch has quit overnight, admitting rather winsomely that he wasn't cut out for party politics.

Speaking to the Today programme, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP declined to rule out standing for the party's crown again. Mr Farage did say, however, that he would have to consider his health first, following his aeroplane accident during the General Election campaign.

The Tory leadership has largely been able to discount the UKIP threat until now. However much a gentleman Lord Rannoch is, his leadership had made UKIP difficult to respect. Pearson's famous interview with Jon Sopel during the election campaign, when he did not appear to know the contents of his own manifesto, was hugely damaging to his credentials.

The Coalition does present a right-of-centre party with real opportunities. Cameron has had to ditch positions on Europe, defence, immigration and crime as part of his arrangement with Nick Clegg. One Tory minister recently confided that UKIP could win 10% or more first preference votes under AV if Eurosceptic Tory voters knew that they could safely do this as a protest while putting the Conservatives as their second choice. Even with AV in place, a new right-of-centre alternative party would struggle to win MPs at Westminster but a strong UKIP leader - who broadened the party's appeal - could perform strongly in other elections, if only as a protest vote.

11.15am: Handsome tribute to Lord Pearson from Daniel Hannan MEP: "He is the most enthusiastic man I know, pouring his energies into cause after cause: mental health, education reform, the treatment of Christian minorities in oppressive regimes, the regeneration of the Highlands. He was one of the strongest friends to the dissidents in the old USSR, and hosted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he came to the UK in 1983."

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