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Ukip on course for 'an earthquake'
Ukip will build up the ballot box support next year that it needs to win parliamentary seats at the 2015 general election, Nigel Farage has declared.
The eurosceptic party's leader believes Ukip is on course to "cause an earthquake" by winning next year's European elections in what will effectively be a referendum on Britain's future European Union (EU) membership.
Mr Farage said next year's council elections could be more important than the euro poll in bolstering the party's clusters of support ahead of 2015. But he also warned that candidates will be subject to smears in the months ahead and called on members to provide "strong physical and moral support".
Addressing the Ukip party conference in London, Mr Farage criticised "the establishment" for trying to close down the debate on immigration and for suggesting anyone who discusses it is "bad and racist".
Mr Farage said the party intends to put forward thousands of candidates at the European and council elections next May.
He said: "In a funny way, the council elections on that day are even more important to Ukip than the European elections themselves. This year we made a great breakthrough on May 2, getting 23% of the vote across the English counties and we now hold 227 council seats.
"I think we've got every opportunity on May 22 next year to win hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of council seats up and down this country, and to build up the kind of clusters of support that we'll need to go on and win seats in the general election of 2015."
Mr Farage expressed confidence that the party will see hundreds more councillors elected and that it will have more members than the Liberal Democrats within 18 months.
David Cameron's promise of an in/out EU referendum by 2017 was "a cynical tactic to kick the issue into the long grass" amid fears of an exodus of his voters to Ukip, he suggested.
In a direct appeal to disaffected Tories, he said the 2014 poll - unlike the general election - gave them a chance "to really express their view without worrying which lot get in to Downing Street".