Ukip surge sends shockwaves through British political establishment

Eurosceptic party gains 136 seats in local elections

A UKIP candidate’s rosette during the local elections count at Oaklands Snooker Club in Cinderford, Gloucestershire for the Gloucestershire districts. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

A UKIP candidate’s rosette during the local elections count at Oaklands Snooker Club in Cinderford, Gloucestershire for the Gloucestershire districts. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

 

The UK Independence Party won seats from prime minister David Cameron’s Tories and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in English local elections, emphasising a drift away from mainstream political movements.

Ukip, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the European Union and has pressed the government and the opposition Labour Party over immigration, gained 136 seats with virtually all of the results counted from the 34 local authorities contested yesterday.

“This sends a shock wave through the establishment,” Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Sky News television today. “These votes are not easily going to go back to the Labour or Conservative Parties.” Labour also gained seats in the elections, confirming trends in national opinion polls, in which the Conservatives trail behind Labour by about eight percentage points. With two years to go before the next general election, support for the governing parties has been hit by the deepest budget cuts since World War II, while Mr Cameron has been criticised by his ownMPs over policies on gay marriage and immigration that have seen supporters turning to Ukip.

“This Ukip surge started 12 months ago when the electorate began to lose confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to handle the economy,” John Curtice, who teaches politics at the University of Strathclyde, told BBC Radio, adding that the party’s results “far exceeded” his predictions.

Ukip voters “are the section of the population whom we know are relatively socially conservative on issues ranging from immigration to gay marriage.”

The close-to-complete results showed Labour gaining 260 seats, while the Tories lost 320 and the Liberal Democrats 106, according to a breakdown by the BBC. The Conservatives lost control of 10 county councils, including Lincolnshire in eastern England, Gloucestershire in the west, Lancashire in the north and East Sussex in the south. Labour gained control of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the Midlands, as well as beating the incumbents in both mayoral elections in northern England. Tony Travers, a specialist in local elections at the London School of Economics, said before the elections that it would be a bad set of results for the Conservatives if they lost more than 350 seats overall, while more than 250 gains would be a good result for Labour. “We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we are going to work really hard to win them back,” Mr Cameron said in a pooled interview, referring to voters who switched to Ukip.

The BBC projected the national share of the vote from yesterday’s results in mostly traditional Conservative- supporting rural areas at 29 per cent for Labour, 35 per cent for the Tories, 23 per cent for Ukip and 14 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.