Lord Pearson plays the Islam card to win leadership of Ukip

Millionaire campaigner against immigration sees off four rivals to head party

A millionaire peer was elected leader of the UK Independence Party yesterday after putting "the growing threat of Islamism" and curbing immigration at the heart of his campaign.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who defected from the Conservatives two years ago, comfortably beat four rivals to assume command of the anti-European Union party.

Lord Pearson, one of two Ukip peers, has protested that the "political class" is complacent about Islamism and claimed that some of "our people" were "strangers in our own land". The 67-year-old former insurance broker invited the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders in February to screen a controversial film about radical Islam. He has called for a zero net increase in immigration, arguing that the issue was the main concern for many voters.

Lord Pearson has backed the idea of electoral pacts with Eurosceptic Conservatives at the next election and is calling for a Swiss-style system of local referendums which he says would hand "power to the people".

He takes over from Nigel Farage, who stood down to concentrate on his attempt to oust the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, from his Buckingham constituency at the general election.

Mr Farage, who will remain leader of Ukip's MEPs, had provoked anger within sections of the party by recently endorsing Lord Pearson as his only "serious, credible" successor.

The peer picked up 4,733 votes, 48 per cent of the ballots cast. The London MEP Gerard Batten received 2,571. Nikki Sinclaire, an MEP for the West Midlands, won 1,214, Mike Nattrass, another West Midlands MEP, received 1,092, and Alan Wood, the party's returning officer, won 315.

Lord Pearson inherits a party in high spirits after receiving 16.5 per cent of the vote – a higher share than Labour – in the European elections in June. It had 13 MEPs elected to Brussels, with representatives from all eight English regions, as well as Wales.

It intends to field 550 candidates at the general election expected in May, but will face a formidable a task in seeing any elected under the first-past-the-post system. Its main hopes rest on Mr Farage's candidacy in Buckingham.

In his acceptance speech, Lord Pearson said his ambition was for the party to do well enough to force a hung parliament. He said: "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."

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 described the Lisbon Treaty as the "last nail in the coffin" of British democracy and claimed that the European Union was now "a country, superior to the vassal states".

An Old Etonian, he founded the insurance brokerage Pearson Webb Springbett, now PWS, in 1964. He was raised to the peerage in 1990, developing hardline anti-EU attitudes when he sat on the Lords EU Select Committee between 1992 and 1996. That experience, he has explained, "led me to become a leading exponent of the case for the UK to leave the European Union".

He had the Tory whip withdrawn in 2004 after he urged voters to support Ukip in the European elections that year and defected three years later.

Mr Farage, who led Ukip for three years, said: "The party has never been stronger and never been more united than it is now."

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