'Howard has a way to go to win our votes'

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Indy Politics

Peter Bomford, a retired agricultural engineer, returned from a holiday in Latvia last week. He speaks conversational French and regularly travels to continental Europe. In past elections he has voted Liberal Democrat and before that Conservative.

Peter Bomford, a retired agricultural engineer, returned from a holiday in Latvia last week. He speaks conversational French and regularly travels to continental Europe. In past elections he has voted Liberal Democrat and before that Conservative.

But on Thursday, Mr Bomford, from Liverton, Devon, gave his vote to the UK Independence Party. He was not alone. The South-west region, in which he voted, is seen as the UKIP's heartland.

The largely white and rural constituency - which includes 21,000 voters in Gibraltar - acted as a launch pad for its remarkable nationwide success. Both the South-west and Gibraltar should be - and historically have been - fertile Tory ground.

Eleven Conservative MPs were elected in Devon and Cornwall in 1992. At the last election the number fell to four. It is a region that the Tories must regain to return to government, yet despite heavy canvassing before Thursday's vote, their leader, Michael Howard, has some way to go in winning back former supporters.

Mr Bomford, 63, said: "I voted for UKIP because of rising discontent about the apparently unstoppable progress towards more integration with the rest of the EU. I am not happy about where we are already, let alone getting further meshed into its bureaucracy. This seems a good opportunity to make my views clear and there are plenty of other people around here who feel the same and have voted for UKIP.

"This wasn't a general election. Things might change next time. But Michael Howard has a lot of baggage - certainly in this house he is not yet trusted."

John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said: "UKIP's strength in the South-west is partly to do with the farming and fishing industries and the perception that those industries do not do well out of the EU. Also, the age structure of the region is towards the elderly side.

"UKIP has done particularly well in coastal resorts. The kind of person who retires to the English Riviera tends to be lower middle class, not been to university and have a strong British identity.

"Then there is Robert Kilroy-Silk, who has strong support from people who watch daytime television. He has been by far the most effective politician in this EU campaign.

"Finally, UKIP has none of the bad odours of the BNP. Who you rather have dinner with: Robert Kilroy-Silk or Nick Griffin?"

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