Nigel Farage last night told a packed out North East meeting that he is “here for Labour votes”.
The UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told party members and potential voters at the Sage in Gateshead that UKIP had deliberately set out on a policy to target voters across the North.
The party, he said, was no longer interested in just taking votes off the Conservatives and was seeking to replace Labour in the minds of voters across cities such as Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester.
Already, polling has suggested the party will come second in the upcoming European elections in the North and elsewhere.
Mr Farage said those polls showed his party was about to cause “an earthquake in British politics”.
He said: “We are about 4% behind Labour in the North East, we are likely to get one of the three MEP seats in this region, and if we do even better, if those polls increase just a little, we would take two of the three seats. Beating Labour in its real heartland here would certainly be a mini-earthquake.”
Setting out a pitch for votes at this May’s elections, Mr Farage said: “It is no coincidence that we launched in Sheffield and are here in the North East today, we are going for the big northern cities, we are going for the Labour heartlands.
“We are here to say that Labour used to stand up for the people in this region, but they have turned their backs on you in favour of the European project. Well, UKIP will stand up for you now.
“If we get this right, we will top the polls nationally, we will beat Labour in its heartland and we will force Labour and the Conservatives to promise a referendum on the European Union.”
He later added: “The days of mockery for UKIP are over. We are a force now and people have to start listening to us.”
Last night Gateshead MP Ian Mearns urged voters not to believe the UKIP hype.
He said: “Apart from opposition to the EU UKIP are clearly and simply a party wedded to opposition to workers’ rights and protective legislation.
“They have nothing to offer working-class voters but a deterioration of their rights at work and a return to individuals being expendable.” Many Labour and Liberal Democrat figures have criticised UKIP’s calls for a referendum on EU membership, saying leaving Europe would put jobs at Nissan in Sunderland and elsewhere at risk.
Addressing that issue, Mr Farage told the audience: “Nissan will still sell cars to Europe because we will still buy BMWs and other cars; the German car market will insist on a trade deal. When Cleggers and others say a million jobs are at risk they are wrong. It is probably just their jobs that are at risk.
“It is time we governed ourselves and came up with our own trade agreements.”
More than 1,200 people turned up for the public meting, which saw protesters outside and a heavy security presence around the concert hall.
A show of hands at the end of Mr Farage’s speech showed around half of those at the event were not party members.
North East Euro election candidate Jonathan Arnott joined Mr Farage on stage and said UKIP was second in the polls across the North because Labour was not doing enough for it.
He added: “I think people know now we are the main challenger to Labour in the North East. It is no longer just about trying for Conservative votes.
“UKIP offers voters here a choice. It knows they are concerned about crime, pay and immigration. We stand up for those concerns.”