UKIP broadens its political outlook at party conference

Nigel Farage Nigel Farage told the conference he would make the European Commission president "eat his words"

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It was a rainy day in Birmingham but there was no doubt that UKIP members thought the sun was shining on their party.

The opinion polls are promising; they believe they are on the up. Their leader Nigel Farage believes that Europe's ongoing economic crisis has been a boon for his party.

But they tried to make it a conference about more than just Europe. Mr Farage knows there's still the problem perception of UKIP as a one-man band and a one-trick pony.

So sheets of A4 detailing the parties policies on crime and justice were doing the rounds. Friday was devoted to a range of policy speeches.

But the "GB out of the EU" bumper stickers were still there on the stalls. The "£" sign emblem was everywhere (although this year's gathering is its last outing). The dishcloths portraying European Council president Herman van Rompuy as just that, a dishcloth, were on sale.

And proudly displayed in one corner, alongside some books, was a framed signed portrait photo of Margaret Thatcher.

Educational issues

UKIP is still a party driven by a fundamental desire to get Britain out of the EU, and it's Conservatives, or at least Conservative leaners, who are the bulk of its supporters.

The biggest cheer for Mr Farage's speech came when he promised to make the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barrosso "eat his words" after he said UKIP was "insignificant" in the debate about the future of Europe.

Some hissed too at talk of the "open door immigration policy" that has caused problems in places like Ramsey. The council in the Cambridgeshire town is the only one in the country where UKIP has control.

These are still the hot button issues for the older UKIP crowd.

But in a chat with younger UKIP members it was grammar schools and university that came up most. One talked of an old Labour family heritage coupled with a rough upbringing with friends who dealt drugs, before they were killed.

They all think that UKIP is in the ascendancy, close to a major breakthrough.

But the stage at their conference still didn't have an MP to show off. There were lords, and MEPs. In the audience there were candidates for November's police and crime commissioner elections. There were councillors. But no MP.

There was a former MP, the ex-Tory Neil Hamilton. In spite of the continuous talk of defections he is the closest they've come to someone who has a seat on the green leather benches at Westminster.

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