Eurosceptic UKIP targeting Labour seats

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Nigel Farage, who will quit as leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) to fight for a seat as a MP, said on Monday the Eurosceptic group had some of its best chances at the next general election in Labour-held constituencies.

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“There are constituencies in which we have a real chance of doing something,” Farage told Reuters ahead of a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker on the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty Referendum in Ireland on October 2.

He said apart from the constituency of Buckingham, previously a Conservative seat which Farage will contest with House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, UKIP had Labour-held Bootle in Liverpool and Hull particularly in their sights after strong results there in July’s European elections.

“There is certainly evidence that a lot of what I would call patriotic old Labour voters feel as we do,” he said.

“They may disagree with us on free market economics but they’ll agree with us on some of the big issues that we’re talking about like controlling borders and the relationship with the European Union.”

UKIP does not have any seats at Westminster but came second behind the main opposition party, the Conservatives, in June’s election to the European Parliament, leaving the ruling Labour party in third.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party is tipped to lose the general election, due to be held before June. It is suffering from voter anger at growing unemployment in one of the worst recessions for decades, rising British casualties in Afghanistan and a scandal surrounding MPs’ expenses.

Farage announced last week that he would take on House of Commons Speaker John Bercow in the Buckingham constituency, standing down as an MEP, if successful.

Farage decided to make the rare move and stand against the Speaker to protest at how Westminster handled the scandal over MPs’ expenses which saw lawmakers claim for expenses ranging from porn videos to moat cleaning.

“When we started, the supporters list of UKIP in the early days was much older people and tended to be Conservative,” he said.

“Things have changed. People who have been displaced or who fear being displaced (by immigrant, low-skilled workers) come from those Labour-voting areas.”

He said sitting MPs who declared against the Lisbon Treaty, aimed at changing the workings of the European Union, would not face UKIP opposition at the next election. So far, eight Conservatives and two Labour MPs had done so.

“Success will be getting the first UKIP voices in the House of Commons,” he said.

Farage, who is leader of Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament, was in Dublin as part of their campaign for a “no” vote against the Lisbon Treaty which was last year rejected by the Irish.

He insisted a similar result in early October would not result in the Irish facing an economic meltdown in some kind of European Commission backlash.

“If the people of Ireland vote no this time that will mean a referendum in the United Kingdom and it will necessarily mean there will be a pause in this whole project and a chance perhaps to have a proper debate.”

Reporting by Jon Bramley