Nigel Farage is to launch a bid to become an MP at next year’s general election by standing in the Kent constituency of Thanet South, local activists have disclosed.
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat, although speculation has centred on his home county of Kent.
Party workers in Thanet South, which centres on the seaside towns of Ramsgate and Broadstairs, said he would be one of three potential candidates presented to Ukip members at a hustings this month.
“It is the worst-kept secret in town,” said Rozanne Duncan, the local party secretary, told the Financial Times.
“We now have two names on the list and one of them is Mr Farage. Whether he will get selected or not is another matter, although I’d be surprised if he doesn’t.”
Martyn Heale, a Ukip councillor for Ramsgate, told reporters: “I think everyone who has applied so far lives in Kent.”
Mr Farage stood in the constituency in the general election of 2005, when he came fourth, but his party’s electoral prospects have been transformed out of recognition since then.
Ukip topped the poll in this year’s European elections, with Kent among the southern and eastern English counties where it performed particularly strongly. The anti-EU party has also won a string of local council seats in Kent.
A survey last month by Lord Ashcroft, the Tory millionaire, suggested Ukip was on course to capture Thanet South from the Conservatives at the election. He also said the party could win the Essex seat of Thurrock and come second in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.
The three seats have large numbers of older, white, working-class voters who are widely seen as most receptive to Ukip’s message.
The current Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys, who is stepping down at the election for personal reasons, is an enthusiastic pro-European. In anticipation of Mr Farage’s likely candidacy, the Tories have selected a former Ukip activist to contest the seat.
A Ukip spokeswoman sought to dampen expectation that the party leader was about to declare publicly his interest in his seat.
She said: “The branch are starting to receive nominations from people interested in standing, but there's no shortlist of candidates yet.
“Even when there is a shortlist of candidates finalised for hustings, that list will be kept confidential. We are still a long way off announcing a candidate for Thanet South.”
Mr Farage unsuccessfully challenged the Commons Speaker John Bercow in his Buckingham seat in 2010, although his campaign ended in near-disaster when a light aircraft he was travelling in crashed. He later confessed he felt lucky to be alive.
As the party’s popularity has surged in the last two years, the Ukip leader has twice considered standing in by-elections and twice been accused of “bottling” throwing his hat in the ring.
Critics said he could have achieved victory if he had contested the Hampshire seat of Eastleigh, where Ukip narrowly failed last year to defeat the Liberal Democrats.
He also opted not to stand in the Newark by-election in June, explaining: “I would have been seen to be an opportunist. I would have been seen to be somebody effectively sent up from London and I am not sure electorally it would have worked anyway.”