The UK Independence Party has achieved its best showing at the polls yet by winning almost 150 seats in the council elections.
igel 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 in an anti-European backlash.
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 yesterday Ukip had seen 147 councillors elected, of whom 139 were gains. More than one million people voted for the party, according to a spokesman.
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 per cent to our vote share".
He added: "I am going to invite him (Mr Clarke) to be my guest speaker at our annual conference. Please, please Conservative party, keep the abuse coming."
Mr Farage was mobbed by well-wishers in Westminster, stopping off for a pint at his favourite pub the Marquis of Granby.
He said: "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."
"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," he said
Bookmaker William Hill was offering odds of 5/1 on Ukip winning a by-election before the general election takes place and5/2 on Ukip winning between one and five seats at the next general election, expected in 2015.
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. Ukip's Richard Elvin was second with 24pc of the vote.
Mr Farage 'pooh-poohed' any talk of the Conservatives reaching out to Ukip and said he would rather be abused by senior Tory politicians.
The Conservatives lost control of councils in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as a direct result of Ukip's advance.
A gamble of fielding 1,700 candidates – three times the number that stood in 2009 – paid off. In 2009 the party had won just seven council seats. (©Daily Telegraph, London)