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By Andrew Osborn
LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Britain's anti-European Union UK Independence Party said on Tuesday his movement was carrying the torch for the late Margaret Thatcher's views on Europe, saying he planned to cause a "political earthquake".
In his most detailed comments to date on his party's electoral strategy, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he hoped to build on surging poll ratings to make big gains in local elections on May 2, win European Parliament elections next year, and secure a "substantial number" of parliamentary seats in Britain in 2015.
The party holds no seats in the British parliament, but is represented in the European Parliament.
"There's a huge vacuum on the centre-right of British politics today and I think UKIP could be ... the catalysts over the course of the next few years for a really fundamental realignment of the way politics is structured in Britain," Farage told parliament reporters.
"I am leading a movement that is becoming a very successful modern different movement in British politics. My job is to change the entire nature of the national debate," he added, saying he hoped to alter the way the country was governed.
Once dismissed by Prime Minister David Cameron as "a party of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", UKIP has seen its poll ratings surge to 17 percent after tapping into growing public disenchantment with the EU and unease over immigration levels.
Farage wants Britain to leave the EU and to halt what he calls "open-door immigration". Although UKIP has 12 lawmakers in the 754-member European Parliament, it does not yet have any MPs in the British parliament.
Farage's views on Europe and immigration have caused problems for Cameron, the leader of the ruling Conservative party. Some of Cameron's own members of parliament feel he has become too liberal and should be pushing the same policies.
For many of them, Thatcher, who died on April 8 and was Britain's longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, remains an idol. Farage told them he had inherited Thatcher's ideological legacy.
"I cannot believe that a young Margaret Thatcher leaving Oxford (University) today would join the Conservative Party. I think she'd come and get involved with UKIP," he said.
"On Europe yes we are the true inheritors of Thatcher."
Farage, who dined with media mogul Rupert Murdoch earlier this year, on Tuesday echoed Murdoch's views on press regulation and on the identity of a possible successor to Cameron - Michael Gove, the minister for education.
He pointed to Canada's Reform Party as a model for success, saying critics who said UKIP would never enjoy electoral success in Britain should look at what the Canadian protest party had achieved.
"We're not there yet by a long chalk but don't think it can't happen under a first-past-the-post system because in Canada it did," he said.
"The Reform Party was subjected to the same degree of mockery and derision, but they became the biggest party in the Canadian parliament in the 1990s. They then staged a masterful reverse takeover of what was left of the conservative party."
(Editing by Michael Roddy)