Farage hopeful of first Ukip MP

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Ukip could be on the verge of securing its first elected MP as votes were being counted in two by-elections.

Douglas Carswell, who defected to Ukip from the Tories, is the overwhelming favourite to retain his seat of Clacton, Essex, after triggering a by-election when he switched parties.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the party was “on the brink of making history”.

Mr Carswell held the seat with a majority of more than 12,000 at the 2010 general election and is expected to benefit from a strong personal following. Tory Cabinet minister Eric Pickles appeared to accept that Ukip would beat the Tory candidate Giles Watling in Clacton.

Appearing on BBC1’s Question Time he said: “I live in optimistic hope that a Conservative will be returned tonight, but I fear I will be disappointed.”

Ukip has also been campaigning strongly in the Lancashire constituency of Heywood and Middleton, which also held a by-election today, in an effort to make inroads into Labour’s northern heartland.

The poll was triggered by the death of Labour MP Jim Dobbin, who had held the seat since 1997.

While there was anticipation of a strong challenge from Ukip candidate John Bickley, opinion polls put Labour candidate Liz McInnes comfortably in the lead.

A Labour source said: “Obviously our vote will be squeezed by Ukip but we are confident of winning after a campaign which focused on the NHS.”

The source said the early indications were that the party’s vote had held up in Heywood and Middleton, with a postal vote turnout of around 66%.

A defeat for Labour in Heywood and Middleton would be highly damaging with less than a year to go until the general election and would heap further pressure on Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Writing in the Independent, Mr Farage said voters in Clacton had been “fired up and excited about the prospect of playing a part in history”.

He said: “The electricity of being part of a schism in UK politics that could alter the narrative forever is palpable. The people lining up at polling stations, many of whom hope to touch the page that could turn over a new chapter for this generation of voters.”

Mr Farage said the party had organised a polling day pub crawl intended “to encourage the remaining men and women who are yet to engage with democracy to stake their claim”.

The Ukip leader, frequently pictured with a pint in his hand, added: “It’s a bit of a burden for me and rather a break from the norm, of course, but I would do anything for the party.”

Turnout in the Heywood and Middleton by-election was 36%, acting returning officer Linda Fisher announced.

Mr Carswell said he “would not want to presume anything” as he made his way to the Clacton count.

The Ukip candidate said he still had some “good friends” on the Tory benches, adding “friendship means a lot to me”.

Asked by Sky News whether he could look them in the eye, he said: “I can certainly look myself in the mirror every morning.”

He dismissed the Tory claim that votes for Ukip would be a boost to Mr Miliband, claiming that he had “good data” that around half of his supporters had previously backed Labour.

Labour sources said the party was confident it would win in Heywood and Middleton and expected its vote share to be up on the 2010 and 2014 local elections.

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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