UKIP has set itself a target of winning 25 seats at the next election, after last week's by-election successes and their high poll ratings suggested that they could overtake the Liberal Democrats to become Britain's third party.
The party had previously been planning to concentrate its strengths on 12 target seats where they think they are in with a chance in next year's general election – but have now more than doubled that figure.
The decision is based on internal analysis of private polling leaked to a Sunday newspaper – a strategy that carries the risk that it sets expectations too high and if there are fewer than 25 UKIP MPs elected next year it will look like failure.
Douglas Carswell, winner of Thursday's by-election in Clacton, was clearly reluctant to talk up his party’s chances. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: "Let's keep a sense of perspective. We have won a single seat. There are 300-and-something to go to get a majority. I don't like bravado talk and I'm not going to use it."
But UKIP strategists believe their biggest problem at present is to counter the Tory slogan "Vote UKIP - Get Labour", which implies that former Tory voters who switch to UKIP are wasting their votes.
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
After their victory in Clacton, Nigel Farage claimed that the message was "Vote UKIP - Get UKIP." He is desperately keen to get across the idea the UKIP might be able to break into Britain's two party system in a way that no party has done since the rise of the Labour Party over a century ago.
If the latest opinion poll is to be taken literally, 25 seats is far too modest. A Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday puts UKIP's support at 25 per cent, their highest showing ever. Translated into seats at a general election, the poll's findings would give Labour 253 MPs, the Conservatives 187, UKIP 128 and the Lib Dems 11, plus a combined 71 MPs for the other parties.
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord who served as a Home Office minister under Gordon Brown, mischievously encouraged punters to place bets yesterday on UKIP getting more MPs than the Lib Dems.
He told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "There will be five Lib Dem MPs after the election, and nine UKIP MPs... I hope the bookies are listening."Reuse content