THE UK Independence Party today emerged as the big winners in local elections south of the Border, taking an average 26 per cent of the vote.
Labour won the South Shields parliamentary by-election, holding onto former Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s seat with a reduced majority. But UKIP was second, taking 24 per cent of the vote in a constituency where it had never stood before.
Polling expert Professor John Curtice said UKIP’s “remarkable” performance was likely to result in a boost to the party’s support in Scotland, but not on the same scale.
Opinion polls gave UKIP around five per cent support in Scotland compared with 12 per cent in England. Prof Curtice said: “England may be about to experience something Scotland has got used to – a system with four significant political parties rather than three.
“UKIP may well do better in Scotland than they have in the past, but Scotland is undoubtedly where they are much weaker, largely because English nationalism doesn’t travel very far north of the Border.”
Nevertheless, UKIP’s strong showing is expected to harden the Conservatives’ stance on Europe and immigration.
And Prof Curtice pointed out UKIP was also opposed to devolution.
He said: “The pressure on David Cameron to tack to the right on Europe and immigration will now be greater than the pressure on him to tack to the left on devolution.”
Many votes from yesterday’s English council elections were only being counted today, but in the overnight results, the Conservatives lost control of two counties – Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire – but retained five others, while Labour made modest gains in the Midlands and the south of England.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “It’s been a remarkable result for us. We have always done well in European elections, but people haven’t seen us as being relevant to local elections or in some ways general elections.
“So for us to be scoring, on average, 26 per cent of the vote where we stand is I think very significant indeed.”
Tory backbencher John Baron said the results should be a “wake up call” for the Government.