THE Hampshire branch of Ukip has descended into further chaos as the party has had to elect a new leader – for the third time in less than a year.
This latest departure follows a series of key figures in the party quitting due to county organiser Paul Lovegrove’s criminal convictions.
On Monday Chris Lagdon, who represents Totton North on Hampshire County Council, was elected as leader by the group after Tony Hooke stepped down.
Cllr Hooke said he stood aside so that he could focus on running an election campaign for Diane James – Ukip’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North West Hampshire – and denied that it had anything to do with Mr Lovegrove’s past.
Cllr Hooke, who also represents Andover South on Hampshire County Council, was only elected as party leader less than six weeks ago, following the departure of Philip Fawkes.
‘I have had to make a difficult choice but I believe I had made the right decision for the people,’ said Cllr Hooke.
‘Diane is number two and she is the first lady of Ukip so it is absolutely essential to get her elected and I will be putting all my efforts into getting her there.’
Cllr Lagdon is the fourth leader of Hampshire Ukip since Ray Finch, who represents Bedhampton and Leigh Park, took over in May 2013.
Cllr Finch left the role of leader when he was elected as an MEP last May.
He was replaced by Cllr Fawkes, who represents South Waterside and is a descendant of Guy Fawkes, who started in May and quit the post in December saying that he wanted to spend more time with his granddaughter in Scotland.
However, new leader Cllr Lagdon said that he was ready to take over the role and that Andy Moore, member for Eastleigh, would continue as his deputy.
He said Hampshire Ukip would continue to support Mr Lovegrove as he has proved himself to be a reformed character.
Cllr Lagdon said: ‘Here at Ukip we do not sack leaders but unfortunately we do seem to have gone through them.’
Ukip’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Fareham Don Jerrard put a stop to his campaign after he found out about Mr Lovegrove’s past – which includes two jail sentences for actual bodily harm and wounding with intent.
Mr Jerrard said: ‘It is a complete shambles. They seem to lost their sense of purpose altogether. There are a number of people there who are out of their depth.’
Mr Jerrard repeatedly brought the subject of Mr Lovegrove’s convictions up at meetings which led to the party suspending him.
This threw the party into turmoil, with former Fareham and Gosport chairman Bob Ingram and Portsmouth city councillor Paul Godier both quitting the party giving Mr Lovegrove and the way Ukip has handled complaints about him as their reasons.
Mr Lovegrove did not respond to calls from The News last night.