Populist British anti-EU leader fires up U.S. conservatives

Published 9:04 PM EST, Thu February 26, 2015
A man displays pins as he attends the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images
A man displays pins as he attends the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
(CNN) —  

British euro-skeptic firebrand Nigel Farage touted his “revolution” against political elites and warned against mass immigration as shared the spotlight with the Republican Party’s top presidential hopefuls on Thursday.

Farage, whose UK Independence Party is tipped to eat into the vote of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in the UK general election in May, also slammed the “cowardly” politics of multiculturalism before an appreciative audience of grass roots conservatives outside Washington.

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“I am here today as the leader of an insurgent political force in the United Kingdom – a force that has taken on the political establishment and rocked them to the backs of their heels,” Farage declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Farage drew parallels between his own populist message and that of the conservative base vote in the Republican Party. He said he didn’t want to “meddle” in American politics, but said the GOP needed to win back the blue collar voters that became known as “Reagan Democrats” in the 1980s if it is to win the White House back in 2016.

“UKIP began to achieve success because the issues that we were talking about were the very issues that our political elite refused to discuss and the very issues that our so-called liberal media said should not be discussed in polite company,” Farage said.

Many of the conservatives in the audience view plans to reform the U.S. immigration system and to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows as akin to amnesty and applauded Farage’s remarks. The UKIP leader complains that Britain’s membership of the European Union means it is powerless to stop a flow of foreign immigrants, many from impoverished Eastern Europe, into his “small island” nation.

Farage was the last speaker of a long day at CPAC, but still drew a curious and healthy crowd, which had earlier cheered conservative hero Sarah Palin and heard speeches by possible GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal.

Last year, in a backlash against the EU, UKIP caused a political earthquake and won elections to the European parliament in Britain, and some commentators have likened its impact on UK politics to that of the Tea Party in the United States.

It is unclear how UKIP will perform in the UK general election on May 7, as some of its supporters were seen as casting protest votes last year and could return to the established Conservative and Labour parties when more is at stake. But Farage, who has cultivated a image as a blunt talker and is often pictured with a pint of beer in his hand, has persuaded several Conservative members of parliament to join his party already, and could be a spoiler for Cameron come election day.