UK & World News
Nigel Farage Rules Out 'Opportunist' MP Bid
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has ruled out running for MP in the Newark by-election saying he wants to focus on the European elections.
Mr Farage said he did not want to look like an "opportunist" by running in for a seat in an area with which he had no links.
The UKIP†leader said he wanted to focus all of his attention on the May 22 vote, even though the by-election, triggered by the resignation on Tuesday of the former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, would fall after that date.
He told Sky News: "At 7.30 last night I found out there was going to be a by-election in Newark and 12 hours later I have thought hard about it overnight and I have realised we are just three weeks away from a European election ... I don't want to do anything that distracts from that."
He said had he agreed to fight the Newark by-election "all anybody would have wanted to talk to me about for the next three weeks would be that by-election".
Mr Farage added: "We will fight the Newark by-election but it won't be me. I would have been seen to be an opportunist. I would have been seen to be somebody effectively sent up from London and I am not sure electorally it would have worked any way."
He denied suggestions he was frightened of the contest - a loss would have been disastrous for the party leader ahead of the 2015 elections - and said he didn't want UKIP to be seen as a "one-man party".
However, a number of Labour and Conservative†MPs took to Twitter to suggest the UKIP leader had "bottled it".
Labour MP for Newport West Paul Flynn wrote: "Farage wimps out and bursts his own bubble. "
While the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest, Mark Garnier, wrote: "Nigel Farage and the Newark by-election: Man or mouse ...? Pass the cheese!!! Squeek squeek ... "
Political observers suggested Mr Farage would have been likely to lose the by-election because of overwhelming Tory support in the constituency.
Mr Mercer, who stepped down over a cash-for-questions scandal, was returned on a 16,000 majority in 2010, while UKIP's candidate came fourth - 26,000 votes behind.
But the†UKIP leader insisted his party had a very good chance of winning the by-election.
He said: "Given the circumstances that a Conservative MP has gone in effectively what is an updated cash for questions row and scandal.†
"I think there will be such a level of anger that UKIP will have a very good chance of winning that by-election despite the size of the Conservative majority."
Tory MP and Minister without Portfolio, Ken Clarke, told the Radio 4 Today Programme: "I am not really surprised. Whatever else Nigel is, he is not an idiot and I don't think he'd have the faintest chance of winning in Newark,"
Mr Clarke, whose constituency is next-door to Newark, added there was no way the people of Newark would have voted for "a card who is larking about trying to get protest votes".
However, UKIP is now riding significantly higher in the polls with some putting support at 20%.
A string of controversies - claims of racist posters, a candidate tweeting that the comedian Lenny Henry should "emigrate to a black country" - †has failed to dent the party's standing
The Conservatives have announced their candidate as Robert Jennick, a 32-year-old lawyer and business director at Christies.
Former Army colonel Mr Mercer resigned after undercover reporters recorded him being given†£4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji, tabling Commons questions and offering a Westminster security pass.