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Farage 'stretched' fighting seat


Ukip leader Nigel Farage admitted he is 'stretched' fighting a marginal seat while leading a national campaign

Ukip leader Nigel Farage admitted he is 'stretched' fighting a marginal seat while leading a national campaign

Ukip leader Nigel Farage admitted he is 'stretched' fighting a marginal seat while leading a national campaign

Nigel Farage has admitted he is spending no time preparing for Thursday's crunch television debate because he is "stretched" fighting a marginal seat while leading a national campaign.

The Ukip leader said he would give some "thought and time" to the seven way contest this week, due to be broadcast on ITV. It is the only time he will share a stage with David Cameron during the General Election campaign and one of two appearances in the programme of major election contests.

Mr Farage suggested a lack of preparation could help him, insisting he believed it was better for debates to be unscripted. He warned the format could degenerate into a shouting match.

The MEP spoke before addressing a ward meeting in the Thanet South constituency which he hopes to win in May.

Around 60 people turned out to the Cliffs End Village Hall, near Ramsgate, to hear Mr Farage speak in the first of two back to back meetings aimed at winning votes in the key marginal constituency.

The meeting was the 17th town hall discussion in Thanet South since the start of the year and attendances have reached as high as 300 in bigger venues, a source close to the leader said.

The Ukip leader used the opportunity to promote his new policy on bank holidays to mark St George's Day and St David's Day, insisting people should be proud to be English.

Speaking in a room decorated with St George flags, he told the Press Association: "I'm not preparing for (the debate) to be honest - I'm busy doing what I'm doing, fighting the campaign. I will put some thought and time into this week but I am a great believer in these things not being over scripted. I think the public are bored with that.

"My concern is how on earth does it work with seven people? Two hours, with a short break in the middle, but with seven people we are unlikely to get through more than four questions, I would have thought.

"Will it degenerate into a shouting match? I just don't know but my worry is there are too many on panel."

Mr Farage said he would have been preferred a four way debate in line with the Ofcom ruling on the major parties.

But he insisted he could rise above the fray with a distinctive offer, adding: " In policy terms I should be very distinctive because the other six actually share quite a lot between then, where Ukip takes quite a different view."

The Ukip leader acknowledged a "difficult" couple of weeks, which has seen the party slip back in the polls.

He said: "The last couple of weeks have been hard but we haven't slipped very much. To be honest with you, nobody has moved very much - that's the remarkable thing about this campaign so far is how remarkably steady the opinion polls have been."

Mr Farage repeated his belief Ukip would win a "respectable" number of seats at May's poll. He has pledged to quit as leader if he fails to enter Parliament as the MP for Thanet South.

He added: "Obviously, I'm fairly stretched personally in that I haven't got a safe seat as leader. I have to come here, I've got to try and win this seat and lead the party .

"It's not easy."

In his 15 minute speech to the public meeting, Mr Farage attacked mainstream politicians for spending their lives pursuing office - insisting he still felt more like the worker in the metals trading business he left two decades ago.

He attacked the negative campaigning of the Conservative and Labour parties, pledging to run a positive message all the way to polling day on May 7.

People at the meeting applauded pledges to scrap hospital car parking charge, limits on overseas aid and an Australian-style points system for immigration.

Mr Farage drew gasps when he told the gathering total national debt under the coalition had soared to £1.5 trillion.

And he made a joke at the expense of Labour's Emily Thornberry, who was sacked as shadow attorney general after posting a Tweet including an image of a house with several St George flags hanging from the windows.

On his new policy, he told the meeting: "Our political class think it is shameful to be English and that we shouldn't admit it.

"I'm sorry, and I don't know about you, but I'm actually rather proud to be English. I think being English is a good thing. We can be English and British and proud of it.

"What I'm saying today is what Ukip will push for is we think, as they have a big festival for St Patrick's Day, we think St David's Day and St George's Day in England should be public holidays when we can celebrate who we are without being told we should be ashamed of it."