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Former Tory peer is new Ukip leader

A former Conservative peer was today elected the new leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip).

Lord Pearson of Rannoch will take over from Nigel Farage, who has been in charge for three years, after polling 48 per cent in a ballot of party members.

He was granted a peerage by Margaret Thatcher in 1990 but had the Tory whip withdrawn in 2004 after suggesting voters should support Ukip in that year's elections.

He is a strong supporter of freedom of speech and earlier this year invited the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Britain to screen a controversial film about Islam.

In his acceptance speech today Lord Pearson said his ambition was to win enough support to force a hung Parliament in next year's general election.

Ukip campaigns for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

Lord Pearson said: "Ukip is not for sheep, Ukip is not for lemmings. Ukip is for people who think and act for themselves.

"And it is for people who now for many years have seen through the lies of our political class and our main political parties, particularly in regard to our relationship with the European Union.

"If you want to go on being deceived by the main parties, then stay in them and vote for them.

"If you don't, the only way forward now is Ukip. It is the only show in town."

He said the Lisbon Treaty was the "last nail in the coffin" of Britain's democracy. The EU is now "a country, superior to the vassal states".

Lord Pearson, one of two Ukip peers in the Lords, said: "My ambition is for Ukip to do well enough at the next general election so that we can force a hung Parliament and a re-alignment in British politics.

"Of course, we will be majoring on leaving the European Union - we can't control our borders without that, we can't control immigration and we will save billions, as I've said."

Mr Farage stood down so he can concentrate on his role as an MEP and on challenging Commons Speaker John Bercow for the Buckingham constituency at the next general election.

"The party has never been stronger and never been more united than it is now," he said.

Lord Pearson inherits a party which has increasingly come to threaten Tory support among hardline critics of the EU.

An Old Etonian, he founded insurance brokerage Pearson Webb Springbett, now PWS, in 1964.

The 67-year-old remains honorary president but has indicated his willingness to relinquish the position upon being elected Ukip leader.

The peer boasts on his website of his "disregard of controversy" in relation to the row surrounding Mr Wilders and his anti-Islamist film Fitna earlier this year.

The Dutch politician was banned from coming to Britain by then home secretary Jacqui Smith on the grounds that his views about Islam threatened community harmony and public security.

Lord Pearson issued a joint statement with cross-bencher Baroness Cox accusing the Government of appeasing Islamic extremists.