Why Nigel Farage has our region in his sights
- Credit: PA
On Monday, UKIP leader Nigel Farage will visit Brandon as he tries to capitalise on the party's Eastleigh by-election boost. He tells political correspondent Annabelle Dickson of his optimism for the party's prospects in the region.
Since the UK Independence Party's strong February by-election showing, the already bullish Nigel Farage has become even more excitable.
Beating the Conservatives to second place for disgraced Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne's Eastleigh seat has catapulted UKIP firmly into the political spotlight.
With local elections just weeks away, Mr Farage is rushing around the country to capitalise – in between being an outspoken anti-Europe talking head on the banking meltdown in Cyprus.
The latest political polls make pretty pleasant reading for UKIP – a recent ICM survey suggested growing numbers saw Mr Farage as a better party leader than the prime minister – but with a general election two years away, Mr Farage said it was May's county council elections which would be a 'litmus test' for the party.
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And with polls and regional plans suggesting the East will come out on top for the party, it is going to be putting a candidate in virtually every seat.
He said: 'I think Eastleigh has exceeded expectations. We came damn close to winning it. That has put us in a different room in the sense that we are not just looking in these Eastern county elections to do well and get a good solid percentage; we are now feeling that we have got a chance in all of these counties to make some breakthroughs and get some people established on these county councils.'
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But what is it about UKIP that he thinks will resonate with the region's electorate? Unsurprisingly, it comes back to one of his pet topics
'I think the sheer level of Eastern European migration to the agricultural areas particularly has led to what can only be described as resentment,' he said.
'Resentment because lots of people have been forced down to the minimum wage, which is good for the employers but not for working people,' he added.
His views are still controversial. Critics warn of the damage an aggressive immigration policy could do to student numbers and skilled researchers.
But immigration has become a hot topic since Eastleigh. Ed Miliband toughened his stance earlier this month, promising Labour would cut the number of people coming to the country to take low-skilled jobs. Yesterday, Nick Clegg set out his 'security bonds' plan to deter foreigners from overstaying their visa.
Mr Farage suggests the change in immigration rhetoric helps UKIP because it means he has been 'proved to be right'.
He said: 'Our opponents used it to say that we are an extremist party, which now nobody believes. Talking about immigration in 2002 wasn't very populist. It was very, very minority and we got a lot of stick for it.'
He also thinks that local issues in Norfolk and Suffolk, such as incinerators, will be on the electorate's mind.
But one of his big local issues is wind farms.
'The wind energy project is blighting vast parts of our countryside,' he said. 'Communities don't get the proper opportunity to express their will. We are the one party totally opposed to these things because of an increase in energy prices.'
In a region where many people are employed in the industry, how will he justify his anti-windfarm stance? It comes back to Europe.
'We would have a fishing fleet in East Anglia. No part of England has suffered as much as East Anglia. Ports like Lowestoft without a single boat in them as a direct result of being part of the common fisheries policy,' he said.
'These are our waters to fish. To go to Aldeburgh and see those boats on the beach because they are not able to fish because of sole quotas, but within sight of the beach you can see Dutch and Belgian trawlers. That tells me that something has gone terribly wrong.'
So who are the UKIP candidates?
Mr Farage said it had become easier to find candidates, with people from a huge range of backgrounds and political experience.
He said: 'It is never easy to get people to give up their time and money to do these things, but it is certainly easier than it has been before.
'There is a growing feeling in UKIP that we are not just a party that is contesting European elections and does well; we are a party that is becoming part of the scene in domestic UK politics.
'I think our members' willingness to stand in these elections shows that.'
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