Ukip wins byelection to gain second seat in parliament
Tory defector Mark Reckless becomes party’s second MP as he takes seat in Kent
Ukip party leader Nigel Farage (left) with Mark Reckless, former Conservative Party MP for Rochester and Strood who won the consituency seat back for Ukip. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
The United Kingdom Independence Party won its second seat in the British Parliament early this morning with a striking victory that threatens to destabilise the Conservative Party of prime minister David Cameron.
The right-wing party Ukip won a byelection in Rochester and Strood in Kent, south England, in a contest prompted by the defection of a lawyer Mark Reckless from the Conservatives. Mr Reckless, who contested the seat under the colours of his new party, was declared the winner early this morning, with 16,867 votes, ahead of the Conservative Party candidate, Kelly Tolhurst, who had 13,947 votes.
The byelection victory had been widely expected and was not by as emphatic a margin as some had predicted. But it delivered a blow to the Conservatives in a constituency they would normally expect to hold.
Mr Cameron, who had promised to throw everything at the contest, campaigned himself several times in Rochester and Strood and ordered ministerial colleagues to do so, too.
The victory suggests that Ukip has the staying power to damage mainstream parties in the general election scheduled for next May. The byelection result could also encourage more defections from the Conservatives, potentially undermining Mr Cameron. On Wednesday, Reckless claimed that he had held talks with two other Conservatives who were considering switching to Ukip.
Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, described the Ukip triumph as “very significant because it is six months out from a general election and in a pretty middle-of-the-road constituency.
“Twelve months ago, the consensus was that they couldn’t win a seat at Westminster. Now they have two. People have not understood the strength of the forces driving this insurgency, built up over decades among certain groups of voters who feel they have been cut adrift,” he said.
The Conservatives appear most at risk from the populist party, whose success could cost Mr Cameron crucial seats in May, but the Labour Party is losing some support to Ukip, too.
Labour finished third in the byelection and had a miserable night after one senior Labour lawyer, Emily Thornberry, was accused of snobbery when she posted on Twitter a picture of a house in the Rochester and Strood constituency with three English flags and a large white van. Critics said Labour was losing touch with its traditional working-class supporters and Ms Thornberry resigned as Labour spokeswoman on legal issues.
Geoff Juby of the coalition partner Liberal Democrats, won just 349 votes, finishing fifth, and lost his cash deposit.
In response to the rise of Ukip, Cameron has already toughened his position on immigration and the European Union, the two main issues on which Ukip campaigns. Last year, Mr Cameron promised that, if re-elected next year, he would hold a referendum in 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU.
But last month another former Conservative, Douglas Carswell, became Ukip’s first elected member of Parliament after he, too, quit the Conservatives.
The issue of immigration dominated the final days of the byelection campaign, with Mr Reckless appearing to suggest that some Eastern European immigrants should be forced to leave Britain after a specified period. Speaking after being elected, Mr Reckless told supporters: “If we can win here, we can win across the country.”
New York Times Service