The U.K. Independence Party, which wants to pull Britain out of the European Union, took first place in elections for the European Parliament, winning a national vote for the first time.
With results in for 64 of the 73 British seats, UKIP had 23, the main opposition Labour Party and Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives both had 18, the Greens three, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats one and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru one. UKIP took 28 percent of the vote, Labour 25 percent, the Conservatives 24 percent, the Greens 8 percent and the Liberal Democrats 7 percent.
“The penny’s really dropped: as members of this union, we cannot run our own country and crucially we cannot control our own borders,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage said in his victory speech in Southampton, southern England. “I promise you this, you haven’t heard the last of us.”
The result capped three days of misery for Cameron, Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband, all of them victims of UKIP’s rise. On May 22, UKIP gained 161 seats in local-council elections, second only to Labour, which failed to gain the level of support it would need for victory in next year’s general election.
It’s the first time the main party in opposition hasn’t won the European election since 1984. It’s also the first time in the Tory Party’s history that it’s come third in a national vote. Still, John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told the BBC that the narrowness of Labour’s lead over the Conservatives would be a “quite considerable disappointment” to Miliband.
“For UKIP, it’s at the top end of expectations,” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said in an interview. “To top the national poll and have seats in every part of the country, you can’t ask for more. For Labour, it’s the worst result for the opposition since European Parliament elections began. And the Lib Dems were just slaughtered.”
Liberal Democrats lost almost all their seats and some party activists called on Clegg to quit as party leader. According to the Independent on Sunday newspaper, a group of unidentified lawmakers are preparing to demand his resignation.
“It’s as bad as I feared,” Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron told the BBC. “We stood up to UKIP, we took the unpopular side of the argument and we’ve been punished, but I’d do it all over again.”
UKIP has won support by attacking the EU, immigration, and mainstream politics. Though the party came third in London behind Labour and the Tories, it topped the polls in most other regions.
Farage has succeeded even after spending most of the final week of the campaign denying he was a racist, after he remarked that he would be concerned if Romanians moved in next door.
“Anti-European feeling in this country has probably not been as strong as it is since before the Napoleonic Wars,” Graham Watson, a Liberal Democrat who lost his seat, told the BBC. “We will have to look at how we’re trying to communicate our message and the kind of messages we’re putting across. Clearly we’ve suffered from being in government.”