MARGATE – UKIP leader Nigel Farage has used a spring conference address to his party to deny speculation that he's been seriously ill.
Farage, speaking to hundreds of delegates, said there has been "unpleasant speculation" about his health due to his recent absence from the media, but he assured party members he's been busy campaigning in South Thanet were he is standing for election in May.
"Why haven't I been on television all the time, making empty promises like the other leaders?" said Farage. "My absence has caused people to spread unpleasant speculation about my health – I know this will disappoint my opponents, but rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."
He said he's been campaigning, and claimed his work had been justified by an opinion poll released overnight which shows he's on course to win the South Thanet seat.
At a conference which was more muted than last year's – which saw the defection of Mark Reckless MP from the Conservatives to UKIP – Farage predicted that UKIP will win "a good number" of seats at the election and promised to "hold the government's feet to the fire".
"We're going to be winning lots of seats," he said. "We will be the true opposition against Labour in the north east, from Birmingham to Hadrian's Wall."
At one point Farage told all UKIP candidates to stand up and warned them of the troubles they might face in the coming months, saying they will "receive abuse like nothing you could imagine". He said negative campaigning had even made him feel sorry for Labour leader Ed Miliband.
"What you've seen since 2 January is the beginning of the longest and most negative election campaign in history," he said. "I'm not a supporter of Ed Miliband but there have been personal attacks on him, and everyone's attacking me but I'm used to that."
"That's not the kind of politics the people want," he continued. "We want the politics of hope and inspiration."
He went on to that the Daily Express for its support of UKIP, adding "we don't have many friends in the media".
The speech, and the conference as a whole, has been light on policy and an expected manifesto launch has not materialised – UKIP staff told BuzzFeed News to expect it before the end of March. Instead, the speech was in an attempt to to boost party spirits and prepare candidates for the campaign ahead.
"We are serious challengers to win four or five seats in this county alone," said Farage. "There is a growing level of support for the peoples army."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at email@example.com.
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