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05/03/2013

U.K. party looks to Canadian Reformers for election inspiration

Nigel Farage
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage reacts during a media interview outside the Marquis of Granby pub in Westminster, central London on May 3. (Olivia Harris/ Reuters)

It's unlikely Nigel Farage will be Britain's next Prime Minister, but there's no denying he's good value.

The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party may be best known -- by those who don't follow U.K. politics obsessively - for surviving the crash of a light plane, which was towing his party's banner, during the 2010 general election. Not funny. (Okay, kind of funny. Now.)

Despite that mishap, Farage hasn't been afraid to get back on the campaign trail, and this morning, he's on the front pages of many U.K. news websites either supping a pint or giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up. This is because Nigel and his party have had a Good Night. 

Thursday saw elections in about 30 county councils, mostly in England, and while these are pretty yawn-inducing for the general public, they're a relatively big deal for Britain's political classes. Many conclusions will be drawn, and with European Union and national elections looming, the results will be scrutinized to within an inch (or centimetre, for those in the EU) of their lives.

Farage's UKIP -- which has always been something of an niche party, focused on issues related to the European Union, of which it is not fond -- appears, so far, to have taken about a quarter of the votes cast where it has candidates. Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, summed it up when he said, "UKIP have changed from being a pressure group to a real political party."

Farage hopes this is just the start. And while he isn't fond of the politics across the Channel, he's happy to look across the Atlantic for inspiration.

"We want to fundamentally change British politics. And there is a very good example of this," Farage said Friday morning on the BBC's "Today" program, must-listen radio which often sets Britain's news agenda.

 "You know, 25 years ago, the Reform Party of Canada started, everyone said you're wasting your time under a first-past-the-post system," Farage said. "They won one by-election and then at the next general election they were the biggest party in the Canadian parliament. It can happen."

Just to keep things in perspective, with 32 of 34 races counted, the Conservatives have 970 councillors; Labour has 400; the Liberal Democrats 291 and UKIP 117. It appears that the Monster Raving Loony Party - a perennial also-ran - failed to gain a single seat.

Crazy.

Jennifer Quinn is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter at the Star. As a journalist with the Associated Press, based in London, she wrote extensively about British politics. Follow her on Twitter @JQStar.

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