From shop cleaner to UKIP leadership candidate for Lisa Duffy

She went from fitting room cleaner to a manger at TK Maxx, so standing to be the leader of the country's third most popular party holds no fears for mum-of-six Lisa Duffy.

Thursday, 4th August 2016, 10:22 am
Updated Thursday, 4th August 2016, 11:25 am
UKIP leader candidate Lisa Duffy at Rivergate. EMN-160108-193309009

Although well known within UKIP circles as its first party director, the district and town councillor from Ramsey is trying to rise from national obscurity to replace Nigel Farage, one of the country’s most recognisable politicians.

Told by a school teacher at 11 that she couldn’t hope to go through life on her personality alone, Ms Duffy left school five years later and began her career clearing the fitting rooms at Etam.

Three years later she was a manager at the retailers before running the TK Maxx Piccadilly Gardens store in Manchester.

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Lisa, her mum Lucille Saunders, Alfred Reeve, Teddy Reeve and Pete Reeve

And having worked at jewellers Ratners when Gerald Ratner said the products were rubbish, Ms Duffy is well-prepared for the crisis management needed at a party grappling with its identity after the EU referendum.

Describing her management style, she said “I do not expect people to do anything I would not do myself.

“I empowered people to work with me. It’s about how you treat staff and leading by example.”

The 48-year-old is the second favourite to replace Mr Farage as UKIP leader next month.

Lisa, her mum Lucille Saunders, Alfred Reeve, Teddy Reeve and Pete Reeve

And having already appeared on the BBC’s Any Questions? she is not worried about fronting up to the national media on a regular basis. “I don’t find that daunting,” she said. “But if you’re not prepared you’ll be eaten alive.”

Ms Duffy, wife of former parliamentary candidate for North West Cambridgeshire Peter Reeve, is also confident about balancing her family life with work.

In part, this is due to having a “brilliant mother-in-law” who helps with her six children, five of whom live at home.

She said: “Whilst I was party director I would be leaving home at 6 and getting home at 10. There aren’t many more hours in a day you can actually work.”

And just like Mr Farage, who once controversially claimed children in Peterborough do not play on the streets because of immigration, Ms Duffy is not afraid to “stick her neck out” on controversial issues. One of those is her focus on a “positive vision for modernising British Islam.”

She said: “We have a duty of care to British Muslims that they have a positive vision, that they are a huge part of our society moving forward. And they want to get rid of the radicalisation as much as we do. And let’s work together to make that happen.

“I will be working very closely with members of the Muslim community to make sure that we have this positive vision and can work together and make integration happen. Because multiculturalism doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked.

“And we do need to make sure that we have a society where everybody is welcome, but it’s one which works regardless of what religion or background you are.

“There is no integration. Everyone has been so politically correct about everything. If you think about back to the 50s and 60s people came over here, got jobs and integrated into the communities that they moved into. And I think that’s what we need to go back to.”

‘I’m ready for the media flak’

Lisa Duffy says she is prepared for the flak which comes with being the leader of a political party.

The UKIP councillor, who works in Peterborough as chief of staff to MEP Patrick O’Flynn, said: “I’ve been part of UKIP since 2004 and there’s very little else out there that has not already been written.

“As a family we are very clear that this is the right thing to do at this time. If they weren’t I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Ms Duffy is also confident she can keep UKIP relevant despite the party achieving its aim of divorcing Britain from the EU.

She said: “UKIP is more relevant now than we’ve ever been.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t realise what a raft of policies we’ve actually got.

“But I’m not complacent, we’ve got a massive job to do as people see us as a one-policy party.”

Ms Duffy, who ran successful Westminster by-election campaigns for Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, believes as a councillor she can empathise more with voters than an MEP. “Being a councillor really shows me just how tough some people’s lives can be,” she added: “I’ve got much more experience of the real world than the MEPs have.”