Ukip 'on course' to be force in 2015, says Nigel Farage

Godfrey Bloom lost the party whip after calling women at a conference fringe event "sluts" and hitting a TV journalist

UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage admitted he was “pretty hacked off” after the actions of an outspoken MEP overshadowed its annual conference.

Godfrey Bloom had the whip withdrawn after calling women at a conference fringe event "sluts" and hitting a TV journalist with a copy of the brochure for the gathering in Westminster.

Mr Farage said Mr Bloom's antics had distracted attention from the party's core message, but stressed they could still make serious inroads at Westminster in 2015 and potentially hold the balance of power after the election.

Mr Bloom insisted the "sluts" remark was a joke but Mr Farage said the MEP, who is no stranger to controversy, had "just gone way over the line".

The Ukip leader told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What Mr Bloom's antics have done is to distract from some of the serious things we were saying yesterday. So I'm feeling pretty hacked off about it."

Acknowledging the difficult balance involved in leading an anti-establishment party, Mr Farage said: "The toughest job of the Ukip leader is on the one hand I want us to be a party of free-thinking, I want us to push the boundaries of debate and we've been good at that on several issues.

"But at the same time I don't want people saying things that are deeply offensive and take the message away from where it needs to be. So it's a difficult balance.

"Mr Bloom has been, over the course of the summer, doing his best to garner as many headlines as possible."

In his keynote speech to the conference, which was swiftly overtaken by events surrounding Mr Bloom, Mr Farage predicted Ukip was on course to cause a political "earthquake" by winning next year's European elections and potentially breaking through in Westminster.

He told Today: "I want us to win the European elections next year and, on the same day, win hundreds of council seats to work out what our target seats are for the general election in 2015 to get a good representation of Ukip MPs in Westminster and, who knows, we might find ourselves holding the balance of power."

Despite the Conservatives now promising a referendum on membership of the European Union, Mr Farage ruled out any pact with David Cameron to help him back into No 10 Downing Street after 2015.

He said it was "extremely unlikely" then that there was "almost certainly not" going to be a deal, before finally saying: "I will give you a no."

Mr Farage, who chatted to journalists and activists in a Westminster pub after his conference speech before the furore over Mr Bloom's comments erupted, insisted he would not become a "cardboard cut out" politician.

He said: "I get up at 5am, and at 1pm or 1.30pm I get a couple of pints and I then go back to work until 10pm every evening. I am a complete workaholic and I like a beer at lunchtime and, you know what? I'm not going to stop that for anybody."

The conference continued today, but Mr Farage said it had been "destroyed" by events surrounding Mr Bloom.

In a reference to previous comments made by Mr Bloom that he was keen to deal with women's issues because they did not "clean behind the fridge enough", a woman at the fringe event joked: "I too have never cleaned behind my fridge."

Yorkshire and the Humber MEP Mr Bloom was then clearly heard responding "this place is full of sluts" on the audio clip of the meeting recorded by the Huffington Post website.

Mr Bloom also raised eyebrows when he hit Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick over the head with a copy of Ukip's conference guide and then called him a racist.

He was confronted by the Channel 4 News political correspondent over why there were "no black faces" on the cover of the conference brochure.