CANVEY ISLAND, England (Reuters) - Britain’s anti-EU UKIP party on Thursday launched its campaign for a closely fought national vote on May 7, suggesting it would only make a “massive” breakthrough into British politics at the next election in five years’ time.
Delivered as a poll showed support tumbling to 9 percent, its lowest in more than a year, UKIP’s message was a volte face from last year when the party said it would cause “a political earthquake” and appears to be a recognition that Britain’s winner-takes-all, first-past-the-post electoral system will make it hard for it to convert its appeal into seats in parliament.
UKIP - the UK Independence Party - wants Britain to leave the EU and to curb immigration sharply. Even though it may not win a huge number of seats, it threatens Prime Minister David Cameron’s re-election chances by splitting the right-wing vote.
It has just two lawmakers in the 650-member lower house of parliament, but won European elections in Britain last May, has regularly been getting 15 percent in opinion polls, and has spoken of holding the balance of power after the election.
But at its campaign launch in a tiny cinema in a seaside town in southern England, UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage was coy about predicting how many seats his party would win, saying only that it would get “a good number” and more than the “two or three” he said pundits were forecasting.
Although “bullish” about the party’s electoral prospects, he played down expectations of a major breakthrough in three months’ time, suggesting that might come at Britain’s next national election in 2020.
“We’re not a party that views this general election as being our one big shot,” he told an audience of supporters on Canvey Island, part of a seat held by Cameron’s Conservative Party.
“We’re a party actually that views this general election as being the one that gets us good representation in parliament ahead of, perhaps in 2020, doing something on a really massive scale.”
In a blow to Farage, an Ipsos MORI poll on Thursday showed support for his party had slumped to its lowest level since November 2013.
With polls showing neither the Conservatives nor the main opposition Labour Party likely to win an overall majority, Farage said UKIP would not enter a coalition government with anyone but would consider a more informal deal to help prop up a minority government.
UKIP would only do such a deal with a party that gives Britons a referendum on whether to stay in the EU, he said. Only Cameron’s Conservatives have made such a pledge on the EU.
“If Mr Cameron is sincere in his desire to have a referendum, well we would want to make sure that it was held on the right terms,” said Farage.
Editing by Louise Ireland