The naked woman who opened her door to Nigel: ROBERT HARDMAN joins the very frisky Ukip leader as he battles for his political life on St George's Day

  • Nigel Farage claims he will have met half his electorate by polling day
  • The Ukip leader says he will stand down if he doesn't win the Thanet seat
  • But it is very tightly contested between Ukip, Labour and the Conservatives

Mr Farage pictured celebrating St George's Day with a pint at the Northwood Club in Ramsgate yesterday

History — proper world-changing history — was made here exactly 75 years ago. It was from here in Thanet that a miraculous flotilla of 'little ships' set sail for Dunkirk in 1940.

Just weeks later, and just a mile inland, the local airstrip was in the thick of the Battle of Britain.

As St George's Day flags flap all over Ramsgate, everyone is justly proud of the past. 

And all agree that history is about to be made again here on May 7. But what will that history be?

Raising a pint to the patron saint of England, Nigel Farage is himself the toast of a considerable chunk of the electorate in Thanet South. His appearance on an impromptu walkabout down Ramsgate High Street causes even more head-turning, more selfies, more spilling out of pubs, more heckling and more chaos than the appearance of Tory ringmaster Boris Johnson when he walked the same route a few hours earlier.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Broadstairs — birthplace of Sir Edward Heath — I hear a Labour grandee campaigning with an impeccably middle-class message: vote Ukip and you'll hit your house price.

In an election campaign derided for its tedium, the top right corner of Kent is proving to be the most entertaining battleground outside Scotland. Except it is much more important than that.

If Mr Farage is returned as the MP here in a fortnight, he will be a substantial force in the next Parliament — whatever its complexion. His United Kingdom Independence Party will have taken a major step in its quest for mainstream respectability.

If he loses, though, he will step down as leader. He said so a month ago and insists he has no regrets. 'It certainly raises the stakes, doesn't it?' he admits over fish-and-chips at his Ramsgate HQ. 'But then everyone's job is on the line. Cameron or Miliband — one of them will be gone this summer.'

More than any other contemporary politician, Mr Farage embodies his party. Without him, Ukip would be a querulous shambles. The polls show the much-vaunted Kipper surge predicted on the back of last autumn's by-election triumphs has fallen back to around 13 per cent — suggesting the party might end up with just two or three MPs.

If Mr Farage isn't one of them, Britain's Right-wing will be very different.

All of which explains why both Ukip and the Conservatives are pouring huge resources into this Tory-held seat — and Labour is by no means out of the race here. The latest polls have all three hovering around the 30 per cent mark.

This seat is not merely marginal. It is pivotal. 'Let's see whether we're loved here,' Mr Farage declares breezily as he heads off on a twilight door-knocking mission in the Ramsgate suburb of Newington.

During his visit to the pub, he spoke to military veterans and canvassed the local population

He recites the details of his last visit here — 'three months ago, Saturday morning, freezing cold and 60 per cent of people were out.'

These streets were solidly Labour at the last council elections. Tonight, this former council estate is proving fertile ground for Ukip, something that doesn't surprise me.

Earlier, I conducted a straw poll at the gates of a primary school up the road. The response was overwhelmingly in favour of Ukip with 'don't know' in second place and Tories a distant third.

This evening, on doorstep after doorstep, they want to shake Mr Farage's hand. 'Let me give you a proper poster,' he purrs, autographing his way through the pile of placards carried in his wake.

No one mentions Europe, Ukip's original lodestone. Everyone bangs on about immigration — even though it's well below the regional average in these parts.

Road haulier Kevin Abrahams, 49, comes out in his socks to welcome Mr Farage. 'These foreign hauliers, they're killing us with their cheap fuel,' he says.

Mr Farage reminisces about a day spent with Kent police monitoring freight traffic outside Dover and finding that '50 per cent' did not comply with UK regulations. Much shaking of heads. Mr Abrahams has already arranged his diary for May 7 to ensure that he won't be on the road on polling day.

A few doors up a foster carer complains that he'd love to put up a Ukip poster but says he'd be blacklisted by social services.

'He's a classic 'shy Kipper'. There are loads of them,' whispers Mr Farage as we move on.

A few doors down, Catherine Fishenden, 72, says she previously voted Green but will be Ukip this time around, furious that a friend was refused veg-picking casual work on a local farm because 'they're keeping the jobs for the foreign gangs'.

Nigel Farage claims he will have personally met more than half his electorate by polling day

Nigel Farage claims he will have personally met more than half his electorate by polling day

Cab driver Andrew Carter screeches to a halt and asks for a selfie. 'I'm on your side, mate.' Two children turn up and foist a lolly on Mr Farage because he's 'my dad's friend'. The lolly is starting to melt but Mr Farage obliges.

Ex-soldier Robert Philpott, 46, can't remember when he last voted but will be voting Ukip this time. And on it goes.

Mr Farage, who estimates he will have met more than half his electorate by polling day, seems a man revitalised. Among Westminster observers, the consensus was that both he and his party had a poor start to this campaign — confusing walkabouts, mixed messages, internal bickering. Above all, the main man seemed off-form.

Insiders say a key change is that he has regained control of his diary from party spin-doctors.

That is evident earlier when he has to choose between clock-watching minders tapping their watches and Ukip convert Matthew Caston offering him a pint at the Miles Cafe on the quayside.

'Nice little pit stop,' he chuckles after the pint.

Does he enjoy canvassing? 'No, I love it,' he shouts, striding off up Princess Margaret Avenue and reflecting on the highs and lows of electioneering. Over the years, he has had one serious dog bite, one trouser leg shredded by a puppy and been sent packing by an elderly voter in Broadstairs — 'effing and blinding, he was' — for not being sufficiently anti-Europe.

'Then there was this woman in her mid-30s who opened the door entirely nude and just stood there having a normal conversation.'

We don't see the other party leaders doing this sort of blitz in their own constituencies, largely because they are contesting safe seats — or, in the case of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, no seat at all — and because their public campaigns consist of closely vetted mid-morning stunts arranged for the television news bulletins.

Mr Farage is the only one fighting two battles in this election. He says he is trying to do the national one early in the day before getting back here for afternoons and evenings on the stump.

In truth, of course, Ukip is just as paranoid as the other parties. Following a disastrous television documentary on the local party hierarchy — in which a Thanet councillor admitted she had a 'problem' with 'negroid features' — the party has imposed a Trappist vow of silence on local members.

'Public' meetings are invitation-only, questions vetted in advance.

The Thanet seat has a constant flow of Conservative big guns, with William Hague proving particularly popular with locals on the day the Mail visited

The Thanet seat has a constant flow of Conservative big guns, with William Hague proving particularly popular with locals on the day the Mail visited

Mr Farage insists the national media are obsessed with the bad apples in his party while ignoring those elsewhere. 'Take that Conservative,' he says, referring to the problematic Thanet councillor (now kicked out of the party). 'She was a Tory for ten years, joined us for one, and we're left holding the baby.'

But if Mr Farage appears to be eating into Labour territory — while insisting that one in three of his pledges are coming from people who did not vote at all last time — he seems to find it harder to woo traditional Tories.

Smartypants London commentators might mark this down as just another angry, run-down East Coast Ukip target seat. But it's more complex than that. It includes Sandwich, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Britain (with a world-famous golf course) and leafy Broadstairs, where the election is vying as a talking point with the mayor's upcoming £35-a-head, black tie May Ball at the Pavilion.

Ramsgate is a handsome old town, too. There are no spare berths in its marina — still home to a much-loved Dunkirk 'little ship', Sundowner — and boutique hotels are popping up.

Walking down Broadstairs High Street, Tory candidate Craig Mackinlay — a magistrate, councillor, accountant and 'embarrassed' founder member of Ukip — is among friends. 'They can't take my vote for granted but I think the Tories have done a pretty good job so far,' retired teacher Jenny Ashmore tells me. It's a recurring sentiment.

The Conservative Party has a constant flow of big guns to this seat. In recent days, half the Cabinet have been through. Today, former leader William Hague is here, much to the delight of the ladies of Lloyds Bank spilling out on to the pavement.

'You look much younger in real life!' says teaching assistant Linda Sykes. Several women say the same. 'Ah, Margaret Thatcher's young boy!' bellows an avuncular gent who might have been at school with Sir Edward Heath — if not with Captain Mainwaring.

This is a town where a distinguished former Foreign Secretary, preparing to retire after 26 years as an MP, is still viewed as a precocious young pup. Mr Hague roars with laughter.

From May 8, he will be writing history books — along with a spot of teaching. 'It's better to go when people wonder why you've gone than why you haven't,' he explains.

For now, he can genuinely enjoy this campaign. As if to prove the point, Parliament's best-known baldie leads the media circus into one shop which is bound to raise a titter — a men's hairdresser.

Chief crimper Malcom Cox says there was a big swing to Ukip among his customers a year ago but that it's now swung back to the Tories.

The Conservatives want to present this as a two-way battle in order to win over Lib Dem and Labour anyone-but-Farage voters.

Among several joke candidates here is the comedian Al Murray who is standing as his Pub Landlord alter-ego, though Mr Farage is unamused. 'He might fit in well with some of the very posh pubs,' he says crisply.

'But I wouldn't try the working-class pubs, if I was him. It's a very middle-class act — laughing at common people.'

Labour is still putting up a good fight here, though. Local councillor Will Scobie seems to be a rising star since he is only 25 and has already been mayor of Margate. He has plenty of funds, aided by a £10,000 donation from the maverick ex-Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott, and has the smartest HQ of the lot, right on Ramsgate harbour.

So why no sign of Ed Miliband — in person or on Labour leaflets? 'If you're talking to an electorate tired of politics, don't bombard them with politicians,' he says. 'I am the local candidate who won't make any promises I can't keep.'

Among several joke candidates for the seat is the comedian Al Murray, who is standing as his Pub Landlord alter-ego

Among several joke candidates for the seat is the comedian Al Murray, who is standing as his Pub Landlord alter-ego

When it comes to local policy, there is little difference between the three front-runners. All want to see the local harbour resume ferry services and the local runway — the defunct 'Kent International Airport' — resume flights.

But it is not the really big issue here. That is summed up by the slogan on Labour's leaflets — 'Defeat Farage'.

At a Labour rally in the same street where Ted Heath was born, the Labour MP for Barking, Margaret Hodge, offers tips from her own campaign against the far-Right in East London.

Miss Hodge is careful to distinguish between Ukip and the BNP. But she argues that they both preach 'the politics of division' and warns that a Ukip win will hit people in their pockets, too.

'It's not good for house prices,' she says. 'It won't be a place where people will want to bring up children.'

It's certainly a novel variation on the Tories' 'Vote Farage, Get Miliband/Sturgeon' mantra. According to Labour, it's: 'Vote Farage, Get Negative Equity.'

Will Thanet South vote Farage and get Farage?

It's too close to call. Either way, though, it will be a small — but genuine — piece of history. 

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