UKIP 'only Westminster alternative'

UKIP leader Nigel Farage: Immigration policy 'doesn't make sense'

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Voters are turning to the UK Independence Party as it is the only party with alternative policies, its leader Nigel Farage has told activists.

At UKIP's spring conference, Mr Farage dismissed claims his party's success in recent by-elections was a protest vote.

He said people felt betrayed by a political class who were more interested in their own careers than national interest.

He also called for an "amicable" divorce from the European Union.

"There is a wholesale rejection of the career, political, professional class in this country going on. We have had enough of them," he told the conference in Exeter.

"And they really do all look the same, and sound the same.

Start Quote

We should be proud as a party that we have re-engaged those people”

End Quote Nigel Farage

"They all go to the same schools, the same Oxbridge colleges. None of them ever had a job in the real world and not one of them is in politics for principle.

"And that's what we stand for. Principle, " he added.

"There are millions of decent people out there who feel betrayed by this political class."

Mr Farage told the audience that UKIP would be "actively targeting" Labour supporters in upcoming local elections in England and Wales.

He told activists that the party had an appeal beyond disaffected Conservative voters.

'Voter's re-engaged'

People voting for them had been traditional Lib Dem and old Labour voters, as well as people who had not voted "for the last 20 years," he said, adding: "We should be proud as a party that we have re-engaged those people."

Analysis

Standing in front of me is a UKIP activist dressed as a rabbit.

Hastily taped to his back is a piece of A4 paper, with "I'm hopping mad about Europe!" scribbled in felt tip pen.

There is belligerence, defiance and colour at UKIP gatherings.

But their recent by-election performances have given the party the feeling that they can be confident insurgents taking on the big three parties at Westminster.

UKIP's two biggest themes, the European Union and immigration, have never had such a high profile.

The challenge now for the Party is to maintain its momentum and develop a behind-the-scenes infrastructure to cope with its greater profile and the greater scrutiny that comes with it.

He focused on what he saw was the impact of immigration in working-class communities and on the European Union.

"We've made the argument for years and now it's a mainstream argument that we want an amicable divorce from the political European Union and its replacement with a genuine, free-trade agreement which is what we thought we'd signed up for in the first place," he told delegates.

He went on: "We're not hamstrung by political correctness, we are not afraid to take on the issues that others would simply brush under the carpet."

He said the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives were "all the same" on immigration because they wanted an "open door" to eastern Europeans.

Highlighting fears of an inflow from Romania and Bulgaria when movement restrictions are lifted, he insisted the "benefits system in this country should be there to be used by British nationals".

Mr Farage said UKIP represented the good Europeans, who wanted positive relations with other countries without being dictated to.

'New depths'

Mocking David Cameron's pledge of an in-out EU referendum after the next general election, he said one should be held immediately.

The EU had plumbed new depths by attempting to harvest money from people with bank accounts in Cyprus, he said.

"Even I did not think that they would stoop to actually stealing money from people's bank accounts," he said.

"I do wish that George Osborne would say that under no circumstances would we ever do that to banks in this country."

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says UKIP is in a buoyant mood, partly due to its candidate coming second in the Eastleigh by-election at the end of February.

The by-election was called after former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne resigned as an MP following an admission he had perverted the course of justice over driving licence points.

The seat was won by Lib Dem candidate Mike Thornton, while UKIP candidate Diane James got 11,571 votes, on a 19.3% swing from the Lib Dems.

The Conservative candidate won 10,559 votes, representing a 14 percentage points fall in her share of the vote since the general election, while Labour was fourth with 4,088 votes.

The result was UKIP's best: almost 28% of the vote, and its fourth second-place finish in a race for a Westminster seat in two years.

During the conference, the party also announced that broadcaster and columnist Jon Gaunt had joined it.

UKIP's two biggest policy themes - withdrawal from the European Union and the impact of immigration - enjoy a prominence in mainstream political debate never seen before, our correspondent adds.

Local elections will be held on 2 May.

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