UKIP takes on Tories, Labour as elections loom

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Doncaster (United Kingdom) (AFP) - The UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Friday said it was ready to take on Conservative and Labour in two key votes next month that it hopes will deliver its first parliamentary seats ahead of May's general election.

In his speech at the party's annual conference in Doncaster, UKIP leader Nigel Farage sought to portray the group as appealing to voters from both sides and looked beyond its usual anti-immigration, anti-EU policies.

"This party is not about left and right. This party is about right and wrong," he told some 2,000 delegates at the conference, which was being held at a horse racing track next to opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband's Doncaster North constituency.

The growing support for the eurosceptic party in recent years has caused major concern in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, which has long been divided on Europe and which has many members who want tougher action on immigration.

But Farage made clear that he also has Labour in his sights, amid signs that working-class voters are beginning to listen to UKIP's anti-establishment message.

"We pose a threat not only to the Conservative party but to the entire British political class," Farage told what the party calls the "people's army", highlighting a manifesto promise to offer tax breaks to people who are earning the minimum wage.

UKIP has kept a relatively low profile since European Parliament elections in May when it won a 27.5 percent share of the vote -- the highest of any British political group.

It has been working on proposals that it hopes will take it beyond its southeast England heartland and into other parts where the Conservatives and Labour have been far stronger.

"We are now parking our tanks on Labour's lawn," Farage said, speaking in the Yorkshire town which was badly impacted by coal mine closures in the 1970s and 1980s.

The conference was overshadowed, however, by a debate in the British parliament on joining US-led air strikes against Islamic Group militants in Iraq.

MPs ended with a vote giving overwhelming support for military action -- something Farage opposes.

- 'Blue collar platform' -

At its two-day conference, UKIP is initially setting its sights on two constituency elections on October 9 that it hopes will deliver its first member of the House of Commons.

Its best chance is in Clacton, a seaside town in southeast England where local MP Douglas Carswell triggered an election by switching from the Conservative party, which he accused of being too weak on Europe, and putting himself forward for UKIP.

The polls predict a triumph for the popular Carswell.

The other by-election is in Heywood and Middleton near Manchester -- a Labour heartland. UKIP is holding a special workshop at its party conference on winning over Labour voters.

UKIP's candidate in that vote, John Bickley, faces a tougher challenge than in Clacton but is trying to harness growing popular discontent following two high-profile sex abuse scandals in the region in Rochdale and Rotherham.

"Farage could have assembled his army of the left-behind in one of his east coast strongholds, but these days he is more ambitious," Matthew Goodwin, a political science professor at the University of Nottingham and a UKIP specialist.

"Doncaster will be used to set out this broader pitch to struggling voters who, arguably, Labour should be winning over," Goodwin said.

Tim Aker, head of UKIP's policy unity and a member of the European Parliament charged with drawing up the manifesto said in this month's issue of Prospect Magazine: "We're beyond left-right, authoritarian-libertarian.

"Our people want to know how we're going to make their lives easier, simpler. It's a blue-collar platform, but for people that want to aspire to achieve absolutely anything."

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