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Saturday 04 May 2013

Local elections 2013: Nigel Farage's Ukip surges to best ever showing, winning 150 seats

The UK Independence Party has achieved its best showing at the polls yet by winning almost 150 seats in the council elections.

Nigel Farage, the party’s leader, was jubilant after it emerged that one in four voters supported Ukip in the elections in 35 councils in England and Wales.

The rise of the party cost the Conservatives three local authorities, although Ukip did not win control of any councils.

The party was even second in the South Shields by-election in the north east of England, where the Tories were third and the Liberal Democrats a distant seventh.

By late on Friday Ukip had seen 147 councillors elected, of whom 139 were gains. The party had several hundred candidates in second place candidates. More than one million people voted for Ukip, according to a party spokesman.

Mr Farage was mobbed by well-wishers as he toured the television studios in Westminster, stopping off for a pint at his favourite pub the Marquis of Granby.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “I can’t believe it. I have had so many disappointments. I thought I was the patron saint of lost causes.”

Mr Farage said that the support of around a quarter of the electorate had been “more than I dreamt possible”. He added: “This is a real sea-change in British politics.”

He said Ukip had taken its “first substantial step towards a party that can credibly win seats at Westminster.

“It’s a fascinating day for British politics. Something has changed here. 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.”

By late on Friday bookmaker William Hill was offering odds of 5/1 on Ukip winning a by-election before the general election takes place.

The bookie also was offering odds of 5/2 on Ukip winning between one and five seats at the next general election, expected in 2015.

Mr Farage said that if there was by-election now then Ukip could almost certainly be left with its first MP. He said: “Give us a by-election in a marginal seat and we will win it.”

The South Shields contest, triggered by David Miliband’s decision to quit as an MP, was won by Labour's Emma Lewell-Buck with a reduced majority of 6,505. The 24 per cent of the vote secured by Ukip’s Richard Elvin to take second place led Mr Farage to declare that “our potential with old Labour voters is very high indeed”.

Mr Farage said Ukip would now focus its resources on building a support base where it had won council seats ahead of the general election and the 2014 Euro elections.

He ‘pooh-poohed’ any talk of the Conservatives reaching out to Ukip and said he would rather be abused and criticised by senior Tory politicians.

The Conservatives lost control of councils in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as a direct result of Ukip’s advance.

The party also won its first ever seats on Hampshire County Council – including two in Eastleigh, whose MP used to be the Liberal Democrats’ Chris Huhne - as well as winning its first ever seats in Essex.

The party is now the official opposition in Kent, where it won 17 councillors, Lincolnshire, where it won 16 councillors - including three members of the same family - and Norfolk, where it won 15 councillors.

The gains were unusual as previously Ukip has only won a large share of the vote at European elections, such as in 2014 when the party came second.

They have also gifted the beginnings of a local network of councillors which Ukip can use to mount a realistic challenge to win its first seats at the 2015 general election.

A gamble of fielding 1,700 candidates – three times the number that stood in 2009 – appeared to have paid off. In 2009 the party had won just seven council seats.

Mr Farage revelled in the insults he has received from the mainstream parties, claiming that Tory Cabinet Office minister Ken Clarke’s dismissal of Ukip as “clowns” added three points to their share of the vote.

Quipping “Send in the clowns!” he said that criticism from Ken Clarke last weekend had “putting three per cent to our vote share”. He added: “I am going to invite him to be my guest speaker at our annual conference. Please, please Conservative party, keep the abuse coming.”

Outspoken MP Nadine Dorries - who is suspended from the Conservative whip and has been tipped as a possible defector to Ukip - said the results heralded the beginning of a “four-party system” and predicted further gains for Ukip. She said the “political landscape has changed significantly” and that her party needed to change to avoid “losing badly” at the next general election.

Ms Dorries said: “The Prime Minister and the entire party is at liberty to ignore my predictions but I think today they can no longer ignore what people in the street are saying, and what they are saying is they don't like what we’re doing and we have to change. If we don’t, Ukip will do much better than they have to date going forward.”

Despite the strong showing, calculations by Sky News on Friday night showed that if the level of support in the local elections were translated into a general election Ukip would not have won a seat in 2015, because of the vagaries of the first past the post voting system.

Instead Labour would be in power with 331 seats, with the Tories on 245 seats, the LibDems on 48 seats and other parties on 26 seats.

Watch Christopher Hope interviewing Nigel Farage at the Ukip leader's favourite Westminster pub.

telegraphuk
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