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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
UKIP contender: Nigel Farage

For many people, Nigel Farage is already the public face of the UK Independence Party and its de facto leader.

Nigel Farage
Age: 42
Job: MEP, commodity broker
Family: Married, four children
Experience: Ex-Tory activist, founder member UKIP, leads UKIP MEPs in Brussels, deputy leader, European Parliament Independence and Democracy group
A flamboyant figure and confident media performer, he is the leader of the party's MEPs in Strasbourg.

He is known for eye-catching publicity stunts such as parking an armoured personnel carrier outside the Conservative spring conference - to symbolise "UKIP parking its tanks" on David Cameron's lawn.

He clashed memorably with Tony Blair, when the prime minister addressed the European Parliament last year.

Mr Farage also claims to have attracted big financial backers to the party - and pledges more to come if he wins.

By-election 'disappointment'

But his opponents in the party blame him and the other members of the UKIP "old guard" for the party's failure to capitalise fully on its 2004 European election results, which saw it gain a record 12 MEPs.

The recent Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, which saw Mr Farage beat Labour into fourth place, was seen as a disappointing result by some in the party.

UKIP had thrown everything it had at the contest, spending more than 70,000 on its biggest-ever by-election campaign, gaining 8% of the vote.

Some in the party maintained it should have done better, but Mr Farage insists the contest established the party as the third force at Westminster by-elections, following a similar result in Hartlepool last year.

Broadening appeal

Mr Farage is a founder member of UKIP, having defected from the Conservatives after John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty.

He says he wants to broaden UKIP from a single issue party to occupy ground vacated David Cameron's Conservatives on issues such as immigration and education.

"UKIP is a national political party, and it must begin to act like one," he says in his campaign literature.

He believes that by taking local elections seriously and having a detailed national manifesto the party can emulate the success of the Scottish National Party - achieving a longed-for breakthrough into Westminster politics.

He speaks of waging war on the entire Westminster establishment - claiming UKIP is the only voice of opposition to what he sees as the cosy left liberal consensus of the three main parties.

But if he wins he will continue to operate from Brussels, leaving the running of the party in the UK to his party chairman.

This has left him open to charges by his opponents that he would be a "part time" leader and that what they see as his dictatorial management style would create divisions.

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