The U.K. Independence Party won seats from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tories and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in English local elections, emphasizing a drift away from mainstream political movements.
UKIP, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the European Union and has pressed the government and the opposition Labour Party over immigration, gained 136 seats with virtually all of the results counted from the 34 local authorities contested yesterday.
“This sends a shock wave through the establishment,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage told Sky News television today. “These votes are not easily going to go back to the Labour or Conservative Parties.”
Labour also gained seats in the elections, confirming trends in national opinion polls, in which the Conservatives trail behind Labour by about eight percentage points. With two years to go before the next general election, support for the governing parties has been hit by the deepest budget cuts since World War II, while Cameron has been criticized by his own lawmakers over policies on gay marriage and immigration that have seen supporters turning to UKIP.
“This UKIP surge started 12 months ago when the electorate began to lose confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to handle the economy,” John Curtice, who teaches politics at the University of Strathclyde, told BBC Radio, adding that the party’s results “far exceeded” his predictions. UKIP voters “are the section of the population whom we know are relatively socially conservative on issues ranging from immigration to gay marriage.”
The close-to-complete results showed Labour gaining 260 seats, while the Tories lost 320 and the Liberal Democrats 106, according to a breakdown by the BBC.
The Conservatives lost control of 10 county councils, including Lincolnshire in eastern England, Gloucestershire in the west, Lancashire in the north and East Sussex in the south.
Labour gained control of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the Midlands, as well as beating the incumbents in both mayoral elections in northern England.
Tony Travers, a specialist in local elections at the London School of Economics, said before the elections that it would be a bad set of results for the Conservatives if they lost more than 350 seats overall, while more than 250 gains would be a good result for Labour.
“We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we are going to work really hard to win them back,” Cameron said in a pooled interview, referring to voters who switched to UKIP.
The BBC projected the national share of the vote from yesterday’s results in mostly traditional Conservative-supporting rural areas at 29 percent for Labour, 35 percent for the Tories, 23 percent for UKIP and 14 percent for the Liberal Democrats.
Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove said it would be a mistake for the Conservative Party to start plotting to oust Cameron as leader even though the Tories had fared badly.
“Any of my colleagues who want to indulge in leadership speculation should spend the weekend reading the history books and consider if leadership speculation has ever helped any political party to enhance its position with the voters,” Gove told BBC Radio 4. “With great respect to anyone -- actually, with no respect, it’s barmy. The idea of changing the leader is bonkeroony.”
In a parallel special election, Labour retained the House of Commons district of South Shields in northeast England as UKIP outpolled the Conservatives.
Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck won with 12,493 votes, or 51 percent of the total, compared with 5,988 for Richard Elvin of UKIP. The Tories, who came second in the district in 2010, finished third with 2,857 votes, while the Liberal Democrat candidate was seventh with 352 votes. UKIP got 24 percent of the vote after not running in the district in the 2010 general election.
The result in South Shields was the Liberal Democrats’ worst ever showing at a special election. No national lawmakers visited the district to campaign for the party’s candidate, preferring to concentrate on winning local council seats, the BBC reported.
The elections took place with the economy showing tentative signs of a recovery that has eluded Cameron since he took office three years ago. Gross domestic product rose 0.3 percent in the first quarter, and figures this week showed indexes of manufacturing and construction rose more than economists forecast, while a gauge of services unexpectedly strengthened in April.
The austerity program has weighed on growth as Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne tries to erase a deficit that stood at 120.6 billion pounds ($187.7 billion), or 7.8 percent of GDP, in the fiscal year ended March.
“The surge in support for UKIP will work against the efforts of Chancellor George Osborne to attract investment to the U.K.,” Rob Wood, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, said in a briefing note. “The strength of the anti-EU vote slightly raises the uncertainty about the U.K.’s prospects of remaining in the EU after 2017, which can’t be a good thing for companies thinking about investing in the Britain.”
The pound rose 0.2 percent against the dollar to $1.5560 at 5:25 p.m. in London. The benchmark 10-year government bond yield was up 10 basis points at 1.72 percent.
The special election in South Shields was called after former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose brother Ed is Labour leader, quit the Commons to become president of the New York-based International Rescue Committee. Labour has held the seat since before World War II.