EU bad boy Nigel Farage guns for Speaker

MILTON KEYNES, England Fri Mar 19, 2010 5:40pm GMT

1 of 10. United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) merchandise is displayed during the party spring conference in Milton Keynes March 19, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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MILTON KEYNES, England (Reuters) - Fresh from a withering verbal attack on the European Union president, Britain's most outspoken EU critic is turning his attention on a target closer to home.

Nigel Farage, an MEP for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), caused offence among his colleagues last month by describing Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, the new President of the European Council, as "a damp rag" with the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.

"If the entire political class are united in their disgust of me, I must be getting something right," the beaming 45-year-old told Reuters at UKIP's party conference in Milton Keynes.

Now the colourful, charismatic former commodities broker is hoping to upset tradition again, this time by ousting the new parliamentary speaker in an upcoming national election.

Custom dictates that the main political parties do not contest the seat held by the speaker, who chairs parliamentary debate and is the highest authority in the House of Commons.

But that has inspired Farage to try to unseat John Bercow, a Conservative who was elected speaker after the former incumbent became the first in 300 years to be forced out of office over his handling of an MPs expenses scandal.

UKIP, which wants Britain to pull out of the EU, stunned the political establishment last year by beating Labour into third place in the European parliamentary elections, taking more than 16 percent of the vote in the process.

However, the party has previously been unable to convert support into success in national polls and Farage probably represents UKIP's best chance of winning its first seat in Westminster.

"I think that this constituency above all others offers people the opportunity to send a message to the entire political class," he said. "I think this speaker is a symbol of that political class and all that is wrong in politics today."

SQUEEZING THE CONSERVATIVE VOTE

Analysts say Farage stands a fair chance of an unlikely victory in Bercow's Buckingham constituency, an affluent town 60 miles northwest of London and a stronghold of the Conservative Party.

Bercow won with a majority of more than 18,000 in 2005.

UKIP party leader Malcolm Pearson believes this time round a combination of its anti-EU message and tough stance on immigration will be a vote winner for Britons angry over a deep recession and the expenses scandal.

"My aim in this election is for UKIP to do well enough to contribute to a hung parliament," he said.

UKIP could divert votes from the Conservatives who are expected to emerge as the largest party. There is a strong anti-EU sentiment among some traditional Conservative supporters.

Pearson is hoping the party could emulate the success of Dutch anti-immigration leader Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is neck and neck for the lead in opinion polls before June's parliamentary election.

"Our feedback from the public is that they are very, very worried about immigration. We've really got to slow it down violently otherwise we're going to end up with 70 million people in 20 years time."

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