UKIP Vows ‘Earthquake’ in May Vote as Immigration RisesRobert Hutton
Nigel Farage said his U.K. Independence Party was on course to cause an “earthquake” in the May European Parliament elections as concern over immigration grows.
“These elections in many ways will be an opportunity for us to tell the political class where to go,” Farage told the UKIP spring conference today in the south coast resort of Torquay. “We represent a broadly based body of public opinion in this country that recognizes the extent to which our political class have betrayed us. They have given away our country.”
UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and impose a crackdown on immigration, is being taken increasingly seriously by older parties and the media after coming close to winning its first seat in the U.K. Parliament less than a year ago.
The conference opens a day after government figures showed net migration -- the difference between long-term migrants coming to U.K. and those leaving -- rose to 212,000 in the year through September from 154,000 a year earlier.
All of the increase came from migrants from other EU countries, who are entitled to live and work freely in the U.K., making it hard for Prime Minister David Cameron to meet his pledge to cut net migration to less than 100,000 by next year.
Farage said immigration is now the “number one issue in British politics.” At a press conference afterward, he said the influx of foreign workers had made parts of the U.K. “unrecognizable.”
He said that on his train out of London recently, it had been some stops before he could hear English being spoken. “Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes it does,” he said. “I wonder what’s really going on.” Asked whether he’d quit if UKIP fails to win any seats in Parliament next year, Farage said he’d be “out of the door” very fast.
Recent polls put UKIP in third place behind Cameron’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party with about 12 percent support, up from 3.1 percent in the 2010 general election.
The party is ahead of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, and has come second in the past six special elections. Last March, UKIP scored nearly 28 percent in Eastleigh in southern England, its best ever result in a House of Commons election. The Liberal Democrats held the seat with 32 percent.
UKIP has drawn support from the Conservatives amid increasing anti-EU sentiment in Britain. Cameron has promised to win new membership terms for Britain and hold a referendum on whether to leave the bloc in 2017, if he retains power next year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech to British lawmakers yesterday, in which she ruled out “fundamental reform” of the EU, showed the prospect of renegotiating the bloc’s treaties “is something that has been put out by David Cameron to kick the issue into the long grass,” Farage said. “It’s not obtainable. It’s not achievable. Renegotiation is a con.”
UKIP goes into the European Parliament elections on May 22 confident of building on the 17 percent it took in 2009. An ICM Ltd. survey carried out Feb. 7-9 gave the party 20 percent, behind the Tories and Labour.
Voter turnout in European elections is relatively low, and Farage said UKIP could come first and win multiple seats in Parliament in 2015.
Local-council elections also being held on May 22 may be more significant for the party than the European elections, he said. UKIP is fighting more than 2,500 council seats and areas where it does well will be its targets for the general election, he said.
Farage denied his party was male dominated and hostile to women.
“There are women candidates at No. 1 and No. 2 on the lists” for the European elections,’’ he said. “Some even talk about a female takeover of UKIP. Our women have achieved these positions through merit, which is the example of the kind of society we want to live in.”
The party’s conference last September was overshadowed when a UKIP member of the European Parliament, Godfrey Bloom, described women as “sluts.” More recently, Farage sparked criticism for saying that women with children are worth less to employers than men.