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3 May, 2013 11:20

Fourth party in: UKIP surges in England’s by-election on anti-EU ticket

In the biggest surge by a fourth party in England since WWII, the UK Independence Party has won nearly a quarter of the vote in local elections where it stood. Cameron, who previously dubbed the UKIP ‘fruitcakes’, has now been forced to backtrack.

UKIP has secured over 130 council seats in 35 councils nationwide, meaning that the party had polled roughly 25 per cent of the vote.

Among their victories was taking Lincolnshire County Council in east England from the Conservative party, leading to the founders of the Conservative Home blog, Lord Ashcroft and Stephan Shakespeare, to state:

"The Lincolnshire result, in particular, is disappointing. Even in 2005 the Conservatives had a substantial majority - the result last time in 2009 increased that majority still further .”

The party also won its first seats in Dorset and Somerset, taking five seats in Norfolk. They also made gains in south-eastern county Kent, winning Tunbridge Wells East from the Conservatives: 1,386 to 1,005. The Conservatives held the council's remaining five seats.

UK Independent Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage addresses the media in central London on May 3, 2013 (AFP Photo / Ben Stansall)

“The message to the Coalition is you are losing the argument. If I was a Tory MP in a marginal constituency I would be worried. If I was a Labour MP in a marginal I would be worried too, ” said UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall speaking at the vote count of the South-Shields by-election in north-east England, which UKIP also won.

We are not just taking votes from Conservatives. This is the fourth by-election on the trot in the North where UKIP has finished second ,” he stated.

The success has received quite unanimous estimates in British media.

"This is a big deal for the British politics, which for many years has been dominated by the three main parties – Conservatives, Labor, Liberal Democrats. And as of today, there’s a new party on the scene. And it’s certainly shaking things up here in London ," the editor of UK news website Politics.co.uk, Alex Stevenson, told RT.

The ruling Conservative party lost over 300 seats on UK councils, with the Conservatives also losing control of the local council in UK PM David Cameron's home Oxfordshire constituency.

With the political landscape shifting significantly overnight, PM David Cameron, who in 2006 dubbed UKIP "fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists mostly ", called Friday for more respect to the party and its voters.

"It's no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for ," the prime minister told the BBC when he was asked whether he still stood by his previous comment.

Cameron further said UKIP now represents a threat to all parties:

"I think there are major lessons for the major political parties. For the Conservatives – look I understand why some people who supported us before didn't support us again. They want us to do even more to work for hard-working people, to sort out the issues they care about, more to help with the cost of living, more to turn the economy around, more to get immigration down, to sort out the welfare system ."

‘Sea-change for British politics’ – Farage celebrates UKIP gains

“We’ve been abused by everybody, the entire establishment, and now they are shocked and stunned that we’re getting over 25 per cent of the vote everywhere we stand across the country. This is a real sea-change for the British politics,” Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, told the BBC. 

He was celebrating UKIP’s success over a pint of beer at his favorite haunt at Westminster, saying that the support from the public in the current election was more than he “dreamt possible”.

"We've thrown the kitchen sink at the campaign and spent every penny we had," Farage is cited by the Guardian as saying. "And I've thrown myself into it."

The 49-year-old believes that the council election has become UKIP’s "first substantial step towards a party that can credibly win seats at Westminster".

"I know that everyone would like to say that it's just a little short-term, stamp your feet protest – it isn't. There's something really fundamental that has happened here,” he stressed. "People have had enough of three main parties, who increasingly resemble each other. The differences between them are very narrow and they don't even speak the same language that ordinary folk out there, who are struggling with housing and jobs, speak."

Farage described UKIP’s current position as a "very strong” one, but acknowledged that "when it comes to a general election we do have a problem, which is the first-past-the-post election system".

UKIP’s leader confirmed that he’ll run in the next general election in 2015, despite failing to snatch Speaker John Bercow's seat of Buckingham two years ago.

UKIP-ing England

Constituency residents and voters shed some light on why the party is enjoying so much newfound success.

Politicians now can never give a straight answer to a question…they trip themselves up. Nigel Farage, ask him a question, you get a straight answer. He’s a straight-talking man; a spade is a spade ,” one South Shields voter told RT.

The Liberal Democrats, in a coalition with the ruling Conservative party, finished with fewer than 400 votes, a mere seventh, just ahead of the Monster Raving Loony Party leader, ‘Howling Laud Hope.’

Among the elected UKIP councilors is one distant relative of Guy Fawkes, famed for attempting to blow up the houses of Parliament in the 17th century. The Hampshire candidate, where UKIP gained 10 new seats, and the infamous gunpowder plotter share a relative in the latter’s 15th-century great-great-grandfather, leading Farage to comment that the blood of rebellion still run his veins. Fawkes took a 37.2 per cent share of the vote.

Norman Taylor, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) candidate in the Ashford Central local elections, prepares to cast his vote at Bethersden Village Hall, in Bethersden, near Ashford in southern England May 2, 2013. (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

The still-incoming results, favorable towards UKIP, are widely regarded as symptomatic of an increasingly euro-skeptic and disillusioned UK.

There comes a time in your life when you realize your country is going to the dogs, and I felt that I had to do something… It’s got the fastest growing membership – I think it’s put 10,000  new members in the last couple of months ,” UK columnist, broadcaster and new UKIP member John Gaunt told RT.

What people want is a party that’s going to put the UK first. So they want things like – they want to get out of the EU, which clearly costs Britain 52 million pounds per day. They want to have control over their own borders. UKIP want to halt immigration and drastically reduce immigration over the next five years… It’s kind of a commonsense manifesto ,” he said.

UKIP argues that all three main parties share similar values, hoping to absorb traditionally Conservative voters into their fold through their harder-line stance on immigration policy – something the three main parties have all begun to imitate in recent months.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage poses for a photograph with a pint of beer in the Marquis of Granby pub, in Westminster, in London May 3, 2013 (Reuters / Olivia Harris)

Grant Shapps, the Conservative chairman, issued a statement in the fallout from the local election results on Friday morning.

People have sent a message, we get it, we hear what people are saying, people are concerned that we get on with the big issues facing hard-working people in this country, like fixing the economy, sorting out the welfare system, helping hard-working people to get on,” it said. 

UKIP City of London spokesman, Steven Woolfe, told RT that what his party has created is “a seismic shift” in the UK politics and is now “knocking on the door of parliament”.

He stressed that the British political elite is ignoring the real state of things by explaining UKIP’s success only by being a protest vote.

“They ignored us in the past and said that no one wanted to listen to us because we were a one-issue party. And then they said that we were just a one-person party,” Woolfe said. “Now that we’ve shown that there are millions of people voting for us they’re saying that we’re the party of protest.”

According to the spokesman, the reason UKIP been so bolstered in the vote is that it listens to the needs of the British population.   

“Today with over a 184 councilors, with over 400 second places we’ve put down a marker that UKIP is here – a particular party that’s listening to the people of this country, hearing that they have problems and saying we’ve got the policies for them,” he explained.

Woolfe added that the Independence Party has every intention of capitalizing on their bounce  “once we’ve got this success we’re going to work hard across through the country and knocking on the door to get MPs and show them we can do more in parliament too”.

The final results of the local council elections, which encompass over 2,000 council seats in England and Wales, are to be announced later on Friday.