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Paul Nuttall dismisses Mark Reckless controversy as ‘chip paper’ as he drums up support for Ukip in Thanet ahead of KCC elections

PUBLISHED: 15:24 12 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:24 12 April 2017

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall visits Margate

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall visits Margate

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The party leader was in a bullish mood as he described Kent as “the heart of Ukip”

Suggestions Ukip could suffer an “absolute wipeout” of its seats on Kent County Council next month have been laughed off by the party’s leader.

Paul Nuttall was on the campaign trail in Margate on Tuesday ahead of the local elections on May 4, as Ukip licks its wounds from the latest in a string of controversies.

Former Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless defected from the party last week, in a move which led Conservative MP for South Thanet, Craig Mackinlay, to predict its representation on KCC to be completely blitzed.

Ukip won 17 seats on the council last year but after seeing three party leaders since the EU referendum, an alleged punch-up between MEPs and a number of high-profile defections, its future as a political force has been written off by many.

However, when Kent News sat down with Mr Nuttall this week, the MEP was in a bullish mood and insisted his party still had the ability to spring a surprise.

“It’s all powderpuff, the Reckless stuff,” he said.

“It’s chip paper - here today, gone tomorrow.

“As for Craig Mackinlay, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

“Theresa May is undoubtedly in a honeymoon period, but it isn’t going to last.

“We know that in the long term things are going to be absolutely fine for Ukip and there’s only one way we’re going to go, and that’s up in the polls.

“I’m not going to deny that these are probably the most difficult local elections we’re going to face before 2020, but our candidates are out there working hard and we’ll see what happens.”

Ukip’s reputation has suffered something of a knock in Thanet, where voters have accused the party of reneging on a pre-election promise made in 2015 to re-open Manston Airport.

Mr Nuttall hinted it may still have a future, and claims his party, which is set to be officially “rebranded” later this year, still has an appeal in a county where it has arguably performed better than anywhere else.

“Just because the leader has a northern accent, doesn’t mean we’re turning our back on the south - this is the heart of Ukip,” he said.

“We’re standing on a good platform of direct democracy, which I think attracts people, particularly post-referendum.

“The fact our councillors are not whipped also plays into our hands because people can be confident that if you elect a Ukip councillor they will stand up for the community above party.

“Our Kent county councillors have prevented town hall fat cats from being paid over £200,000 a year, they have campaigned against building on green belt, campaigned against zero hour contracts - it lines us up for a good campaign.

“I know for a fact from being out with them, they’re getting a good reception on doorsteps.

“The pledges are coming in, it doesn’t seem as if the voters are drifting away, so we’re quite confident we’re going to deliver a decent performance.”

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