Spreading the UKIP message

There are still two and half months to go before this year's elections but one party is already off the blocks. The UK Independence Party has launched its campaign with a series of public meetings around the region.

After last year's success in the county council elections and with opinion poll support stronger in the east than anywhere else in the country, it's trying to keep the momentum going.

"We think we're onto something, we think we're chiming with public opinion, we think we can deliver something quite dramatic on May 22nd," declared lead MEP candidate, Patrick O'Flynn, as he addressed an audience of 80 people in the Norfolk town of Diss.

It wasn't a bad turnout for a political meeting on a cold March night. Some in the audience were UKIP members but many told us they were floating voters who were unhappy with the other parties and interested in the UKIP message.

UKIP, it seems, is going to make a lot of being "none of the above" in the forthcoming election. Mr O'Flynn claimed that Labour had betrayed the working class by allowing unfettered immigration, while the Conservatives had let down the middle class by putting up the cost of living not least the cost of commuting.

UKIP's sitting MEP, Stuart Agnew, admitted that the party may not have many policies at the moment but he told us: "There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the political class at the moment. Beneath the surface there is a great deal of determination to change a mindset that has said it's much better for this country to be governed by Brussels than by its own elected leaders."

"Charity should begin at home"

The policies the party does have went down well with the audience in Diss, from the plan to reduce immigration, to using some of the foreign aid budget to help those affected by the recent floods. "Charity should begin at home," said Mr O'Flynn.

There were also calls to make UK citizens a priority on NHS waiting lists. "It's wrong that those who've paid into the pot for years should wait behind those who haven't," added Mr O'Flynn, who also called for a return to grammar schools.

Professor Paul Whiteley from Essex University is studying the rise of UKIP. He says the party appeals to men more than women, with the majority of supporters between the ages of 46 and 55. According to his research, 48% are former Tory voters, 15% former Lib Dem supporters and 8% are from Labour.

"Its support is growing not because Euro-scepticism is growing, it's largely because of discontent with the existing parties. Many people feel that Labour and the coalition parties can't solve the current economic or immigration problems and they are looking for a new party."

He says UKIP is now well on course to become the third party in British politics but that while UKIP may end up beating the Tories in the European elections, it may still struggle to beat a resurgent Labour Party.

"They could still come second," he says. "However, they do need to remember that in UK elections the first past the post system punishes up and coming parties. There is no chance of UKIP coming 2nd next year."

But UKIP won't be cowed, it points out that membership has doubles since 2010 while its opinion poll rating has quadrupled.