Paul Nuttall has confirmed he will stand in the general election after days of refusing to say whether he would throw his hat into the ring.
The Ukip leader said he would not yet reveal the constituency, but there is speculation he will contest Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip cut Labour’s majority in a byelection in 2014, or Hartlepool, where he is campaigning at the weekend.
Alternatively, Nuttall could again stand in his home town of Bootle, where he came second at the last general election but has little chance of overcoming Labour’s 28,000 majority.
The Ukip leader told the LBC radio station he would announce which constituency he was contesting within the next 48 hours. “As the leader of the party I will be, obviously, leading the party into battle as I have done many times in the past,” he said.
Nuttall has failed on at least four previous occasions to enter parliament, most recently losing the Stoke-on-Trent Central byelection in February.
During a bruising campaign, parts of his CV were questioned and he admitted that a claim on his website to have lost close friends in the Hillsborough tragedy had been false.
Nuttall’s decision to stand saves the party from having barely any senior figures contesting the general election. Nigel Farage has already bowed out, saying he has more impact in Brussels as an MEP, while Suzanne Evans, the deputy chairman, said she is writing the manifesto.
Arron Banks, the Ukip donor who keeps threatening to withhold his support and start a new movement, nearly stood in Clacton but decided not to get in the way of a local candidate.
Douglas Carswell, who was Ukip’s only MP, resigned from the party and decided not to stand as an independent, saying his job was done now the Conservatives are taking the UK out of the EU.
The party has been haemorrhaging support to the Conservatives since the EU referendum and it is likely to stand candidates in only about 100 seats.
In a further blow to Nuttall’s leadership, Ukip’s north-east regional chairman, Steve Turner, defected to the Conservative party after conceding that the anti-EU party was riddled with “infighting and poor organisation”.
Turner, who was regional director of Vote Leave ahead of the EU referendum last June, said Ukip was no longer the better option for pro-Brexit voters and the party would struggle in the general election.
He told the Guardian: “I’ve felt quite disappointed for some time in the lack of direction since the referendum. I thought we would adapt and grow and move into a reliable option for a post-Brexit party, and I didn’t see any sign of that coming across.”
Turner said he did not believe Nuttall would stand in Hartlepool, where Ukip was runner-up by 3,000 votes in the 2015 election, because if he lost it could prove “fatal” for the party.
“If Paul Nuttall was to stand in Hartlepool and lose what is the party’s number one or number two target, that on its own would finish Ukip,” Turner said. “People would say, if your leader can’t win in the best chance you have ... I think the risk would be too great.”
Turner said he had spoken to “an awful lot of Ukip supporters” who planned to vote Tory on 8 June, and that he believed a “significant number of members” would not renew their membership for another year.
He added: “There have been a number of things in the past 12 months where I thought we looked unprofessional. Ukip is no longer the better option for people who feel they can’t support Labour.
“Lots of people don’t feel they could openly support the Tory party for one reason or another. I think Ukip has a dilemma in Hartlepool. The Tories will stand a candidate and they will take plenty of Ukip votes, and I’m not sure Ukip will do as well as it believes.”
Turner said he now wanted to be selected as the Tory candidate in his hometown of Redcar.
Phillip Broughton, the former professional wrestler who fought the 2015 election campaign for Ukip in Hartlepool, was nominated as a candidate after a hustings this week.
It is understood that the party’s national executive committee will make the final decision. Jonathan Arnott, Ukip’s MEP for the north-east, has been tipped as the possible choice of the NEC.