The UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage has defended his party's immigration policies on Sunday as support for Ukip soared to a new high of 15%, according to a poll in the Observer.
Farage denied that Ukip was simply the 'BNP for posh people' as ratings showed support for the anti-EU party had risen by another percentage point in just two weeks.
The party's support is almost double that of the Liberal Democrats, languishing in the same poll on 8%. Labour were on 39% with a ten-point lead over the Conservatives on 29%. All three main parties were unchanged from a fortnight ago.
Speaking to Kay Burley on LBC radio on Sunday morning, Farage brushed aside accusations that Ukip were merely middle-class xenophobes, saying "there's only one person [who compares Ukip with the BNP] and that is David Cameron."
Is Farage set for a bumper 2013?
To add weight to his argument, Farage said the party had black councillors, and used the example of Winston McKenzie, candidate for Croydon North, as a symbol of the party's inclusiveness.
However the former boxer is controversial himself, having made headlines in November after claiming it was "not healthy" for a child to be adopted by a gay couple.
Asked by Burley, standing in for regular host Iain Dale, how he would fix the immigration problem facing the UK, Farage proposed a similar system to Australia's, whereby candidates are screened for their skills before admission.
The Ukip leader claimed that the UK is an attractive option for migrants because of the generous welfare system, and suggested that migrants should not be given access to the NHS and benefits such as the jobseekers' allowance and housing benefit until they have been paying taxes in the UK for five years.
Farage has defended his party's immigration policies
Farage went on to tell LBC: “We just think it’s about time we started to put the interests of Britain and British people first.
"The one issue that will dominate politics going ahead will be Europe."
Farage argued that even if Cameron did offer a referendum on the EU, it was unlikely that people would believe him, adding: "I’m not sure really that will drive anybody away from UKIP, in fact perhaps the opposite is true.
"We're run by a bunch of college kids, who have never had a proper job in their life."
Farage has claimed the election will be fought on Europe
He said he was "very, very pleased" with the poll but insisted it was no surprise, adding "I mean we have achieved levels of support like this before in European elections, when Europe was the issue, low turnout, and of course proportional representation.”
Previously, he said on Saturday that 2012 had been a "remarkable year" for the party, which has seen its ratings rise from 4.5% just 12 months ago.
In a New Year's message, he said Ukip's performances in a series of by-elections demonstrated that it was taking votes from Labour as well as the Tories.
"I'm particularly pleased to think back to the by-elections, especially the ones we had in Corby, Rotherham, and Middlesbrough," he said.
"What it showed was that despite the media obsession that Ukip is taking Tory votes - which of course we are - what those Northern constituencies showed is that Labour votes are coming to Ukip in real numbers too."
Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who is chairing his party's policy review for leader Ed Miliband, predicted that Ukip would have "a great 2013 and an even better 2014" when they could win the European elections.
In an article for the Sunday People, he said: "My hunch is that he (Nigel Farage) and Ukip will have a great 2013 and an even better 2014 when they may top the European elections," he said.
"For me politics was always about us (Labour) and them (Tories). Two teams, camps, gangs, crews, tribes - call them what you will - but basically left and right. I have never got the Liberals.
"But 2013 will be the breakthrough year of four-party politics - with Ukip the big winners."
Opinium interviewed 1,965 British adults between December 21 and 27.
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