Farage Uses Election Manifesto to Rebrand UKIP as Serious Party

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UKIP Leader Nigel Farage
Leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage speaks as he launches the party's 2015 general election manifesto in Thurrock, on Wednesday, April 15. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Nigel Farage attempted to rebrand his U.K. Independence Party as a serious party of government, with a policy platform that was independently audited.

The U.K.’s May 7 vote is UKIP’s best chance to win seats in a general election, with forecasts suggesting it could pick up as many as five. To do that, Farage needs to keep hold of the voters who have flocked to UKIP’s message of protest against mainstream politics, while reassuring others who see it as a fringe group.

“Ordinary people have been left behind and they have simply got no one left to speak for them,” Farage said as he unveiled the program in Thurrock, east of London, one of UKIP’s target seats.

The party promises 20 billion pounds ($30 billion) of tax cuts by 2020, paid for with 32 billion pounds of spending reductions, including cutting foreign aid, canceling the High Speed 2 rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds, ending increased spending in Scotland and leaving the European Union.

The figures were signed off by the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research, an independent forecasting and analysis group. This was an important issue of credibility for Farage, who dismissed the party’s manifesto for the previous general election in 2010 as “drivel.”

The main promises were a referendum on leaving the 28-nation EU and cutting immigration. Still, Suzanne Evans, the party’s deputy chairman, made a virtue of listing large numbers of party policies in other areas.

“I think I’ve covered quite a lot of ground for a single-issue party,” she said to laughter.

Polling Third

UKIP is attracting about 13 percent backing in opinion polls. That makes it the third best supported after Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and the the opposition Labour Party, neither of which is set for a parliamentary majority. Still, the small number of seats UKIP is predicted to win in the 650-member House of Commons under Britain’s electoral system makes it extremely unlikely it will be in a position to influence the formation of the next government.

In his introduction, Farage said the UKIP document was different from other parties’ manifestos, which “are usually filled with arbitrary, over-ambitious targets and pledges to some special-interest group here or there.”

Manston Airport

Still, there was some evidence that such groups had still scored the odd hit: The promise of a medal for everyone who had served in the armed forces; reopening Manston Airport, on the edge of the electoral district in Kent where Farage is running for a seat in Parliament; and promising a referendum every two years on an issue of public choice. There was also a separate section on “Caring for Classic Cars.”

The 28,000-word document mentioned “immigration” 36 times, “European” 37 times, “flag” four times, and “Magna Carta” twice.

At the launch, Farage refused to answer a question about why the only black face in the document was illustrating the section on foreign aid. The journalist who asked it was heckled, while seven black and Asian party members stood up, to applause.

UKIP has surged in popularity since 2010, forcing Prime Minister David Cameron to promise his own referendum on leaving the EU. Thanks to the defections of Conservative lawmakers, it has two seats in Parliament.

Bookies’ Odds

The party is now favorite to win in just three seats, down from seven at one point, according to Matthew Shaddick, head of political odds at bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc. One of those is Thurrock, a Labour-Conservative battleground in the 2010 election, where UKIP came fifth with just 7.4 percent of the vote.

Policies proposed by the party include maintaining defense spending above 2 percent of economic output, in line with North Atlantic Treaty Organization commitments, cutting property taxes for small businesses and investing an additional 12 billion pounds in the National Health Service.

Evans also said that a proposed five-year ban on immigration for the unskilled would have some flexibility to allow in agricultural workers, telling the BBC that “if they are needed, why stop them from coming across?”

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