UKIP leader Nigel Farage wants to emulate Lib Dem success in bid to hold balance of power at Westminster

Leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, on the campaign trail during a visit to Ramsey in Cambridgeshire. PRESS

Leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, on the campaign trail during a visit to Ramsey in Cambridgeshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date:Wednesday May 1st 2013. See PA story POLITICS UKIP. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire - Credit: PA

As the dust settles on the UK Independence Party's great strides in the Norfolk County Council election, political editor Annabelle Dickson talks to leader Nigel Farage about how they are faring and how he wants to emulate the Liberal Democrats in its quest for seats in Westminster.

Nigel Farage has many new-found demands after the UK Independence Party's astonishing gains in the county council elections.

He arrives half an hour late for lunch. He was held up after a young fan from Belfast had flown in to meet him and then he, of course, had to have a fag before lunch, his press officer said.

Confidence is not something that the charismatic former stockbroker has ever lacked, but since the May council elections he seems to have become even more hyperactive (or perhaps it is just that we have seen much more of him on our television screens).

In between large gulps of red wine he happily discusses the 'cretins' in charge of our energy strategy and the lunacy of wind farms along with his admiration for what former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown did.

He talks about a situation where UKIP could hold the balance of power in 2015.

Huge gains in places like Norfolk –where UKIP prevented the Conservatives from holding a majority at County Hall – certainly gives more weight to that argument.

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'If you look at Norfolk, we have really affected some change there. We are breaking the cabinet system of government in Norfolk with the number of UKIP councillors that we have got,' he said.

But how are his party members faring with their new found power? A few will secretly admit they never thought they would actually get in.

Mr Farage is honest about the mood among Eastern region candidates at a dinner in London last week.

'Some are relishing it, because they have been councillors before for other parties and they know how it works. Some of them are finding it very difficult, because they have gone from being businessmen or policemen or whatever it is.'

He is also happy to talk about the fact that some of his candidates have already had to stand down.

In Thetford there will be a by-election in August after it emerged a winning UKIP candidate had been given a police caution.

'We will find of the 150 or so county councillors we have got that some of them aren't suitable, of course we will,' Mr Farage says immediately when the topic of individual candidates arises. 'But, then again, look at the calibre from the other parties and they have unsuitable candidates, too. It is a difficult thing for a volunteer army to get elected into these things and for everybody to fit the mould. It is not going to happen. But am I confident that the vast majority that get elected are going to be hard working and diligent? Yes I am.'

And Mr Farage also dismisses that fact that UKIP's alliance with Labour in Norfolk will provide fuel for the Tories' claim that 'if you vote Labour, you get UKIP'.

He said: 'I haven't told any of them what to do. Get on with it, you are free. Make your own arrangements. If you think that what you are doing is in the best interests of the people in those divisions, then get on and do it. There could be all sorts of odd co-operations with UKIP and any party, I am completely relaxed.'

Mr Farage says the rivalry with the Tories is more psychological than mathematical. And claims from the mainstream parties that UKIP is 'just a protest vote' and there is 'nothing in it' or that it was 'mid term blues' are wrong, he says.

'I spent a fortnight starting off in Cornwall, working up through the west side of England to Hadrian's Wall and back down the east side of England on what we called the 'common sense tour' in the April in the run up to the county elections. There wasn't much common sense being shown in the evenings, believe you me.'

But he said he learnt on the tour that the view that everybody who votes for UKIP is a retired colonel who lives on Sailsbury Plain, with extremely right wing views on everything was wrong.

Polling suggests the party is taking votes from the Lib Dems, Labour and those who have not voted for many years.

But while everybody is clear on UKIP's views on Europe, being a party in Westminster would be about more than that – something Mr Farage is quick to address.

The party has come under fire for its last election manifesto which analysts and opponents say was unaffordable.

And Mr Farage makes no pretence. It was a 'Horlicks. I have burnt the 2010 manifesto. It is a dead parrot,' he said.

But he is quick to deny responsibility for it, claiming it was written at time when he had 'run away to fly light aircraft' and move the subject on to the party's new full time head of policy.

'There were proposals in the 2010 manifesto where cuts could come from, but they were not properly costed,' he said. 'Becoming a grown up party means that is what we have got to do.

'We have got a lot to do in a relatively short space of time, but we are building a team. It is still small. There are some very professional people, we have got energy and enthusiasm.'

So what is the plan for the next two years?

When asked if he will stand in the 2015 election he won't be drawn.

He wants to talk about the European elections.

He said: 'I want to lead UKIP into the European elections as a candidate and to try and bring on what I believe will be this earthquake.

'It is not that far away. I genuinely think that we will go into that election, and what UKIP are going to say is 'make this your referendum', hold their feet to the fire, make sure that, early in the next parliament, we get an opportunity to have a referendum and I think that it's a realistic thing to say that UKIP could win the European elections next year.

'That really could be an earthquake in British politics.'

But there is a wider strategy and thought about how to get to Westminster. The county council elections have been an important part of that.

'The clever bit for us next year is not winning the European elections – the clever bit is that nearly 6,000 seats that are up on the same day at district level and unitary level all over the country. We want to ride on the back of the European elections and win not 150 seats in local government, but to win many many hundreds of seats.

'Paddy Ashdown proved my point. Whatever anyone thinks of Lib Dem politics, Ashdown was a brilliant leader of the Lib Dems and they focused on building up by winning by-elections, by building up clusters of district and county council seats and once you hold a number of council seats that you won on first past the post at county level, the perception that you are a wasted vote and you can't win at Westminster goes.

'The Lib Dems build up to 60 MPs using this approach and my approach is 'let's build the clusters and use May 22 next year to do it'.'

He is not yet sure how it will work with numbers, but rather than fielding many candidates at the county election, he said that resources may be more targeted at the general election.

He said: 'Let's say next year we spend our entire resource of 50 seats, or whatever it is. We target ruthlessly and we try to get into the House of Commons in significant numbers and, who knows, maybe hold the balance of power. That is where I intend to take this things over the next couple of years.'

So what issues does he think are going to get the electorate excited? Energy and education are top of the list.

'The lunacy of the wind farms being the type of issue. You can scarcely believe that we have got such cretins running the country that the lights are going to go out.' (An assertion energy minister Michael Fallon denies.)

Mr Farage is starting to win airtime from the other main parties, and while he would be keen to be part of proposed television debates in the run up to the general election, he will find a way of getting publicity if he is excluded.

'If they want to exclude us from the debates, I will hold open air public meetings, at the same times in the same place in those towns and we will probably get even more coverage from it.'

This is the words of a man full of confidence