Nigel Farage has made a personal appeal to Ukip supporters for help with canvassing potential voters in the contituency where he is standing, after a poll suggested he would not win it and be forced to stand down as party leader.
A Facebook message sent by Farage to all his followers on Monday calls for an “action day” on Saturday across South Thanet – and asks party members to sacrifice time from their own local campaigns to help.
A leaked ComRes poll of the Kent constituency, commissioned last month by Ukip’s most generous donor, showed Farage behind the Tory candidate and only one point ahead of Labour’s.
A month earlier, he was expected to win the seat comfortably. But the polls have been turned around by his opponents, who are harnessing a significant anti-Ukip vote.
In his message, Farage wrote: “I know a lot of you are fighting your own campaigns locally, but if you could spare just one or two days, I’d really appreciate the support. More than 500 of you came and helped on my first action day and it was a tremendous success. We’re going to be delivering postal voter leaflets, adverts for our public meetings, and doing some canvassing too! So please do me a personal favour, and come along on the 11th.”
The letter asks supporters to confirm their attendance by contacting Martyn Heale, Ukip’s South Thanet chairman. He has previously attracted controversy because he was a member of the National Front, the far-right group which believed in forced repatriation.
Opponents of Farage are already making plans to launch a campaign on Saturday to counter an influx of Ukip activists.
Bunny La Roche, an organiser of Thanet Stand Up to Ukip, said: “This invite shows that the ’people’s army’ is actually a bunch of outsiders. We are the real people of South Thanet, and we will be demonstrating and leafleting to tell them that we don’t want Farage or their anti-immigrant politics.”
The poll, which was commissioned by businessman Arron Banks, showed the party on 29 points, one point behind the Conservatives, with Labour on 28.
The findings are a significant concern for Ukip, given that a Survation poll in February showed the party 10 points ahead, a result that was taken as an endorsement of the work Farage had done in the seat.
Ukip dismissed the latest poll as an anomaly and based on weak methodology, but on Sunday ComRes published its workings and won support from other pollsters such as YouGov.
Party activists now acknowledge that the fight to win the Kent seat is much closer and more volatile than previously thought. Farage told the BBC three weeks ago that he would “probably win” the seat, and has said he will quit as Ukip leader if he does not.
He has repeatedly pledged to stand down as party leader if he does not win on 7 May.
In an appearance on Radio 5 Live, the Ukip campaigner Diane James, an MEP, said she would not be worried if Farage stood down because there were others who could take his place.
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th April 2015 15.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010