Nigel Farage: UKIP not just a protest vote

UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the party's by-election popularity is not just a "protest vote"

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UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has dismissed suggestions voters in the Eastleigh by-election backed his party as a "protest vote".

He said people voted for UKIP because they were "offering policy solutions" and "common sense ideas".

But Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted it was the Conservatives who would stay on the "common ground".

Lib Dem President Tim Farron described the result, which saw his party hold the seat, as "game changing".

UKIP finished second in Eastleigh, in Hampshire, with 28% of the total vote, pushing the Conservative Party into third place.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted his party will not "lurch to the right" following the result and will "stick to the course" the government is on.

'Two fingers'

The Conservatives have argued the surge in support for UKIP was essentially a protest vote, but Mr Farage dismissed this as "the default position of the political establishment".

Analysis

More than 48 hours on, there is still a vibrant small industry in reading the political runes of the Eastleigh by-election result.

The battle for votes in the Hampshire town offered little in the way of cheer for either the prime minister or Ed Miliband, with the Conservatives and Labour finishing third and fourth respectively.

The Sunday newspapers are full of stories about senior Tories talking up ideas that will be seen as muscular Conservative fodder, such as scepticism about the European Convention on Human Rights and restricting access to the NHS for immigrants.

It is an attempt to take on the threat posed by UKIP but sits alongside the prime minister emphasising the NHS and cutting the cost of living - what, in the round, Downing Street calls the "common ground" of politics.

In other words, the Tory leadership wants to persuade people the Conservatives have broad appeal, without being accused of a political lurch or knee-jerk reaction to a single by-election result.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that some people who voted UKIP in Eastleigh "probably used it as a chance to stick two fingers up to the establishment", but insisted others did so because the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems were not offering voters "a real choice".

"You can't put a cigarette paper between them on policy," he said. "They don't just vote UKIP because they dislike the other three, they vote UKIP on policy.

"What we're saying to people and what we're putting in front of them is a common sense idea of how we should control our borders, of what our relationship with Europe should be, of what we should be doing about the looming energy crisis.

"Actually people vote for UKIP because they see us offering policy solutions."

But speaking on the same programme, the foreign secretary insisted it was the Conservative Party which was sticking to the "common ground" and offering solutions to the country's problems.

Mr Hague said: "We're not brushing it off. There are people who are impatient for us to sort these things out.

"What we have to do is make sure we follow up and communicate properly the things that we are succeeding in in government."

He cited a fall in net migration, reductions in welfare spending and increases to the personal tax allowance as evidence the government was addressing people's concerns.

'Siren voices'

Liberal Democrat Tim Farron said the result for his party, which held on to the seat despite a drop in its vote share, showed that "Lib Dem fortresses are firm".

And he warned the prime minister against listening to "siren voices from the right", which would be "very foolish" for the country and the Conservative Party.

He said it was a "game changing result" for his party.

"This vindicates the position we have taken which was 'It's a tough thing to go into government.'

"The alternatives were worse and it was far better for us to campaign for the right things in power than to sit on the sidelines. It shows you can take power and you can win elections. "

Mr Farron said the result demonstrated the Liberal Democrats had the right to exercise more "muscle" in coalition negotiations, particularly in the run-up to the Budget on 20 March.

He rejected a suggestion from Conservative Defence Secretary Philip Hammond that the defence budget should be protected and more cuts made to welfare.

"At a time like this to think it is more important to be investing in Trident or something like that, rather than protecting people who are the least well off in our society, that would be morally wrong as well as just economically stupid," he said.

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