Former Ukip leader Paul Nuttall backs Peter Whittle to be his successor
Former Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has thrown his weight behind Peter Whittle to succeed him in the job.
He said his "bright and erudite" former deputy was the right candidate to transform the Eurosceptic party's fortunes.
Mr Nuttall stood down as Ukip boss after support for the party collapsed below 2% at the general election. He had only been in the role for seven months.
A total of 11 candidates are vying to succeed him, but he said Mr Whittle - who is Ukip's leader in the London Assembly - was the pick of the bunch.
Writing for the Daily Telegraph, he said: "I will be voting for Peter Whittle. I made the decision to make Peter my deputy leader during the last leadership campaign and it was an appointment I do not regret. He not only proved to be hard-working and loyal, but bright and erudite.
"He is also a proven media performer, which is increasingly important in the age of twenty-four hour rolling news. Due to his time as my deputy, Peter now has the invaluable experience of appearing on big national programmes such as Question Time and The Andrew Marr Show. He has also appeared regularly on Daily Politics and Sky News."
The former leader also took a thinly-veiled swipe at one of Mr Whittle's rivals, Anne Marie Walters, who has called Islam "evil" and has the backing for former English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson.
Mr Nuttall said: "To pick a fight with a whole religion would represent, in my opinion, an insane act of political folly. It is essential therefore that Ukip makes clear the distinction between Muslims, who make up around five percent of the UK population, and Islamism, which is prepared to maim and kill.
"Peter Whittle strikes the right balance between identifying the warped ideology behind these attacks without stigmatising all Muslims. It is a subject that has to be handled with great care and dexterity, and most of all by someone with media experience."
He added: "For Ukip to prosper it must be a radical party. There is no space for a mealy-mouthed Eurosceptic version of the Liberal Democrats. Ukip must be a party that is willing to push the boundaries of political debate and reflect what working men and working women are thinking.
"It must also be committed to a domestic agenda and increasing its local government base. I know Peter Whittle believes this too and that is why I am backing him to lead Ukip into a new post-Brexit era."
The result of the Ukip leadership election will be announced at the party's conference in Torquay on 29 September.