Eurosceptic Farage turns 'loony' UKIP into winners
Nigel Farage on Monday savoured the success of his eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) as it looked set to surge to victory over the mainstream parties in elections for the European parliament.
The chain-smoking Farage likes to hold court in a pub, but he might have swapped his usual pint of English ale for champagne after UKIP looked on course to win the vote for a parliament that paradoxically it wants to abolish.
Farage's aim is nothing less than to bring down the whole European Union.
UKIP -- whose members were once dismissed by Prime Minister David Cameron as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" -- would become the first party outside of the duopoly of the Conservatives and Labour to win a British national election in more than a century.
The party -- formed just 21 years ago -- won seats at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and bit into the traditional heartlands of the Labour Party, even winning its first ever European seat in Scotland.
Together with a strong performance in local council elections that were held alongside the European vote, Farage can justifiably claim that UKIP has established itself as the fourth force of British politics.
Except for one important point.
After UKIP saw a surge of support in the local elections, a delighted Farage said "the UKIP fox is in the Westminster henhouse" -- but the party does not yet have a single representative in the national parliament.
In interviews after Sunday's count, Farage expressed his hope that that elusive first seat in Westminster could come in a by-election in Newark, central England, on June 5.
- 'UKIP army on march' -
"The UKIP army will march on Newark," he said. "You have not heard the last of us."
The aim, he stressed, has always been to use the European as a springboard for the general election in May 2015.
It is arguably UKIP's influence on the policies of the other parties that is its most potent effect -- Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EU was partly due to pressure from Farage's party.
Yet UKIP remains a two-issue party -- even Farage admits that many of the party's policies on issues such as healthcare and the economy are rather half-baked.
Farage, 50, endured a torrid build-up to the European election, with his communications chief trying to step in during one radio interview in which he made comments about Romanian immigrants which were viewed in some quarters as racist.
But in his acceptance speech as he retained his own seat in southeast England, an ebullient Farage said the three main parties had led Britain into the Common Market but had "twisted and turned" over an in/out referendum on EU membership.
"The penny's really dropped that as members of this union we cannot run our own country and crucially, we cannot control our own borders," he said.
Even after his European success, Farage -- who made a fortune as a commodities trader before entering politics and takes pleasure in reminding journalists he is married to a German woman -- still has to turn a sometimes chaotic one-man band into a serious political force.
He has been forced to disown a series of rogue "Ukippers" whose pronouncements are pounced on by the media.
So long, then, to the candidate who said Africans should "kill themselves off". Farewell to another who called Islam "evil". Auf wiedersehen to one who called recent floods divine punishment for the legalisation of gay marriage.
And adieu to one who said former foreign minister David Miliband was "not British" because his Jewish parents fled Nazi-occupied Europe.
Farage is not immune to the odd faux pas himself, such as when he recently expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin "as an operator, but not as a man" for his handling of the Syrian civil war.
© 2014 AFP