London: The UK Independence Party (UKIP) elected a former businesswoman to succeed Nigel Farage as leader, with the task of redefining the party after it achieved its primary aim of getting Britain out of the European Union (EU).

Diane James, a member of the European Parliament, won with just short of half of the vote among party members, UKIP announced at its annual conference in Bournemouth on England’s south coast on Friday. There were four other candidates.

Following Farage poses a challenge for the new leader. Outspoken and charismatic, Farage took the party from relative political obscurity and turned it into a major political force, pressing former Prime Minister David Cameron into offering the 23 June referendum on EU membership. UKIP saw its vote share in the 2015 general election soar to almost 13% and the party topped European Parliament elections a year earlier.

Yet the Brexit vote has left the party deeply divided. The battle the new leader faces was illustrated when a former aide to Farage, Alex Phillips, announced this week she was joining Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, calling UKIP a “catastrophic mess" riven by splits.

James, UKIP deputy chairman and its spokeswoman on justice and home affairs, was the clear favourite with bookmakers to win the contest. The former front-runner, migration spokesman Steven Woolfe, was left off the list of candidates after missing the nominations deadline by 17 minutes. He blamed “technical problems" on UKIP’s website.

One lawmaker

Farage resigned on 4 July, saying his political ambition had been achieved after more than two decades. “I said I want my country back," he said. “Now I want my life back." He’d previously announced he was quitting after failing to win a seat in the 2015 general election, only to reverse his decision a few days later.

James, 56, entered politics after a 30-year career in the private health-care industry. She earned a reputation as an assured media performer during the general election and EU referendum campaigns. She came within 2,000 votes of becoming UKIP’s first elected member of the House of Commons when she narrowly lost a 2013 special election to the Liberal Democrats.

UKIP’s sole member of the UK Parliament, Douglas Carswell, defected from the Conservative Party in 2014. UKIP candidates finished second in 120 of the 650 House of Commons electoral districts in the general election. James decided against standing for personal reasons. Bloomberg

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