3 May 2013

Ukip local election surge: sea-change or flash in the pan?

Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint of bitter after significant gains in the local elections. Is Ukip’s success a mid-term protest or a real change in British politics?

– Conservatives hold on to 18 councils and lose 10 including Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire,
– Ukip makes gains of 139 seats – a vote share rise of around 13 per cent,
– Labour wins South Shields by-election and three county councils, taking Nottinghamshire from the Tories,
Is Ukip’s rise really a breakthrough?
– 14 councils now under no overall control,
David Cameron says there are “major lessons” to learn,
– Final count: Cons -335, Lib Dems -125, Labour +291, Ukip +139, Greens +5

The party previously dismissed by the prime minister as “fruitcakes” won 140 seats and gained an average of 25 per cent of votes in wards where it was standing.

The Conservatives kept control of 18 county councils, but lost 10 including Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire which are now under no overall control.

In what will be seen as a personal embarrassment to David Cameron, Labour finished with 15 seats in Oxfordshire, including one in the prime minister’s constituency of Witney. But no party gained overall control of the county.

Party leader Nigel Farage said the results marked a “sea-change in British politics” and said that Ukip now had a chance of winning a seat in the House of Commons.

“We’ve been abused by everybody, attacked by the entire establishment, who did their best to stop ordinary decent people from going out and voting Ukip and they have done in big, big numbers,” he said.

LIVE BLOG: tweets, pictures, video and analysis from Channel 4 News at the 2013 local elections

Mr Cameron said he would “work really hard” to win back voters who switched allegiance to Ukip, and signalled a less hostile tone towards the eurosceptic party.

Asked if he stood by his “fruitcakes” comments, the prime minister said: “Well, look, it is no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for.

“Of course they should be subject and they will be subject to proper scrutiny of their policies and their plans.

In Essex, where the Conservatives maintained control, Ukip and the Greens won their first ever seats.

Labour inches forward

Labour made some gains in the local elections, securing the largest share of the vote in Cambridge despite the university town’s Lib Dem MP, and in Gravesham, Kent, whose MP is Conservative.

Ed Miliband’s party also took Nottinghamshire back from the Conservatives but only by one seat, with some Tories suggesting the right wing vote there was split by Ukip.

Well, look, it is no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for – David Cameron on Ukip

Labour also took back Derbyshire after losing the county council in 2009, however at 291 seats, Labour fell short of the 300 seats it was hoping for.

Thirty-five councils held elections in England and Wales and more than 2,300 seats were contested overall.

“If there was an equivalent squeeze on the Ukip vote in the general election (no foregone conclusion) that would only bring them down to 15 per cent and given half their support is thought to come from ex-Tory voters that would be very punishing to Tory MPs defending marginals,” writes Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

Read more about what Ukip’s rise means for the other main parties on Gary’s blog>

Coalition concerns

The coalition parties were bracing themselves for hundreds of losses but the Tories suffered most at the hands of Ukip.

A Yougov poll for the Times suggests that six times as many Tory voters are switching to Ukip for every one Labour voter.

We get it. We have heard you. We understand and we are also anxious to make progress. Grant Shapps, Tory chairman

David Cameron had already attempted to counter the Ukip threat by floating the possibility of granting MPs an in-out EU referendum before the 2015 election.

Tory Chairman Grant Shapps said his party had heard the message and failed to move quickly enough to get the message out. Highlighting a range of policies carried out by the coalition, including the reduction of the deficit and the first stages of the roll-out of universal credit, he said: “We get it. We have heard you, we understand and we are also anxious to make progress.”

There was also a poor showing overall for the Liberal Democrats. In Bristol, the Lib Dems lost nine seats, with Labour and the Greens gaining ground. However no party gained overall control.

South Shields

Labour hung on to South Shields in the parliamentary by-election early this morning with the Tories pushed into third place by Ukip.

The Lib Dems had a disastrous showing in seventh place with only 352 votes, which forced the party to lose its deposit.

Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck, a social worker and local councillor won the seat vacated by David Miliband, beating Ukip’s Richard Elvin by 6,505 votes, but with a reduced majority.

Karen Allen for the Conservatives came third with 2,857 votes, while Nick Clegg’s party finished behind an independent candidate, an independent socialist and the BNP.

Ms Lewell-Buck, who secured 12,493 votes in a seat that Labour has held since 1935, said that the result showed the coalition government was taking the country in the wrong direction.