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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
UKIP hungry for change
By Robin Brant
Political correspondent, BBC News, West Devon

UKIP badge
Keeping the pound has been a core message for the party

The union flag is still waving proudly above the stall.

The "" lapel pins are scattered over the fold-up table.

The petition is sitting with a pen across it, waiting for signatures.

But these are tough times for the UK Independence Party.

Five members are manning its stall at the Okehampton Agricultural Show in Devon, spreading the word in a part of Britain which the party regards as a stronghold.

But the high of 2004, when UKIP achieved 16% of the vote in the European elections, establishing itself as Britain's fourth party, is an increasingly distant memory.


The man who oversaw that success, Roger Knapman MEP, is retiring as leader and UKIP is in the process of choosing a replacement.

Jo France, a retired teacher who has been a member for 10 years believes raising the party's profile is the biggest challenge facing the next leader.

"Promoting the party is important. The party name is what "will come to people when they go and vote".

"They can only vote on the message that they have received."

UKIP's big pitch remains what it always was - get Britain out of the EU and this, for many party members, is the main source of its appeal.

It's through fighting elections, and it's by taking votes, and it's through getting people elected, that we change agendas
UKIP leadership contender Nigel Farage MEP

"The reality is that many of our laws are now made in Brussels and there's nothing anyone in this country can do anything about," says George Mudge, who chairs the local West Devon UKIP association.

But some in the party believe its "one-trick pony" image is damaging its chances at the ballot box - and is the reason why it has struggled to build on its 2004 breakthrough.


It has established itself as a new force in Westminster by-elections, coming third in two recent contests.

But it is still some way from securing an MP at Westminster.

Last year's general election was a disappointment, with Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system hurting its chances of winning a seat.

Most of the candidates in the leadership contest have pledged to broaden UKIP's appeal with a range of policies in areas other than Europe.

Robert Kilroy-Silk (third left) in 2004 after being elected into the European Parliament
Robert Kilroy-Silk helped the party achieve a breakthrough in 2004

The contender with the highest profile is MEP Nigel Farage.

He has been in UKIP from the start, as a founding member in 1993.

He promises to bring in more big donors, more celebrity backers, and better campaigning.

Like the other contenders he has been speaking at hustings around the country.

In London he told members: "We've forgotten what UKIP was founded for.

"The argument was that we would fight elections, and it's through fighting elections, and it's by taking votes, and it's through getting people elected, that we change agendas."

But opponents say his day job - in Brussels and Strasbourg - will be a distraction.

'Police state'

That's the line from business turnaround specialist Richard Suchorzewski.

He has only been in the party for two years after defecting from the Conservatives, but he has emerged as a surprise contender to take UKIP forward.

Two others make up the field in this four-man race.

Former Conservative general election candidate David Campbell Bannerman is a distant relative of Henry Campbell Bannerman, Liberal Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908, and is currently chairman of UKIP.

David Noakes is the fourth man, an IT consultant with an apocalyptic view of the EU.

He often describes it as a "police state" with the power to abolish Britain's political parties and make its MPs redundant.

Strong support

The leadership election votes will be counted at the beginning of September and the winner unveiled at a party relaunch.

We got a tremendous amount of publicity from Robert, but he wanted to be leader of the party
UKIP donor Alan Bown on Robert Kilroy-Silk

Whoever gets the votes and succeeds Roger Knapman will face serious challenges, as the landscape on Europe has changed.

France and the Netherlands rejected plans for an EU constitution last year, and that killed the idea of a growing political menace - for now.

Then there was the row with former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk.

His failed leadership bid in the run-up to the general election won them much needed attention but it also exposed divisions.


UKIP's biggest donor, a man who has bankrolled them to the tune of more than 1m, is Alan Bown.

He is backing Mr Farage, although he says he'll keep giving, whoever wins the leadership.

On the Kilroy episode he says: "I think it was unfortunate that Robert Kilroy-Silk should have left.

"We got a tremendous amount of publicity from Robert, but he wanted to be leader of the party and we didn't know him well enough to give him that position.

"But I don't think it's caused a lot of damage".

With that fight behind it, UKIP is now on the brink of change.

It wants to be bigger and better.

The target is floating voters, and it is clear that it must appeal to them with more than just a single issue.

We asked one visitor to the agricultural show, a man in his thirties, if he felt the "single issue" label was a detraction.

"All of my friends and colleagues would say that.

"They would think of them as an anti-European and anti-immigration party, which is a problem for them," he says.

"They need to attack on some of the other issues."

There are those who will never vote UKIP but there are plenty who sympathise with the issue at its core.

Whoever the new leader is, he will have three years, or less than that if the next general election is earlier, to pick them off.

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