Nigel Farage has claimed Ukip is now the main opposition in nearly every seat in England from the Tory south to Labour north, as he launched the party’s general election campaign.
Speaking from a target seat in Essex, the Ukip leader made a pitch to voters on both the left and right who have been “left behind”, promising that he would both address the cost of living and the cost of government.
He primarily focused on appealing to voters’ emotions, urging them to back a party that “believes in Britain” and making the case that Ukip is a “state of mind”.
Arguing that the party stood up for the little man, he told his audience: “We have crossed the class barrier in British politics. That is a remarkable achievement for Ukip and we pick up support from across every social spectrum.”
Farage said Ukip was “a truly national political party”, dismissing the Conservatives as a “regional party for the south of England” and Labour as a similar party for the north.
He went on to describe his party as “the challenger in virtually every parliamentary seat from Birmingham up to Hadrian’s Wall”.
“We are going to give Labour in the north of England a real run for their money, of that I have no doubt at all,” he added.
Farage also gave a hint of some of the economic policies due to be unveiled by the party in the next two weeks, saying Ukip would save billions by leaving the EU, scrapping most foreign aid, cancelling HS2 and closing a loophole that means some foreigners can reclaim VAT on shopping.
Suzanne Evans, the party’s new policy chief, said Ukip was “the only party that would have any money to spend” as leaving the EU would give it “billions to play with”.
She said Ukip would be able to make promises about future funding and investment “without having to up taxes or make any very much deeper cuts to public services”.
The bold claim means Ukip’s manifesto is likely to come under intense scrutiny when it is released in the next few weeks alongside policy speeches to make sure its promises are fully funded.
Pressed on whether it was really that simple and whether his populist promises were too easy, Farage said: “We will do a speech in two weeks’ time about the economy where we are going to have to say where savings come from.
“Suzanne mentioned the EU budget, but of course there is also the foreign aid budget … We will also talk about HS2, which is projected to cost up to £70bn … And things like the fact that it probably isn’t right that billionaires from Saudi Arabia or Russia can go and shop in Bond Street and when they get to Heathrow get their VAT back. So there will be measures to raise more revenue.”
The Ukip leader declined to predict how many MPs Ukip would get as this was like “trying to pin the tail on the donkey”, but he suggested the party was likely to get more than the two seats predicted by some experts because it had tended to exceed expectations in the past.
As part of his speech, he ruled out entering a coalition government, but indicated he would be willing to lend his support to any party that promised a swift EU referendum.
Given that Labour is not in favour of a referendum at this point, this most likely only potentially applies to the Conservatives if Ukip were to gain a significant number of seats.
“We will not enter a coalition, no matter how tempting ministerial cars may be,” he said. “We will only do a deal with anyone on the condition that there is an in/out referendum on the EU.”
When it was pointed out that the SNP are more likely to be kingmakers than Ukip, Farage said he thought the electoral maths did not bear this theory out.
He said the total number of seats held by the centre-left would be the same, given that Nicolas Sturgeon’s party is taking seats off Ed Miliband’s party, and that Ukip was hoping to steal constituencies off Labour, Tories and Lib Dems.
The event was held at the Movie Starr Cinema in Canvey island in Essex, where the Ukip leader held a tub of popcorn bearing the party’s logo. He described himself as “fighting fit” after losing weight during an alcohol-free January.
This article was written by Rowena Mason political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th February 2015 14.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010