Saturday 7 December 2019

Farage throws down gauntlet as Ukip unleashes whirlwind

UKIP leader Nigel Farage celebrates European election results with candidates in Southampton, Hampshire. Reuters
UKIP leader Nigel Farage celebrates European election results with candidates in Southampton, Hampshire. Reuters

James Kirkup and Steven Swinford

The UK Independence Party has stormed to victory in the European elections and unleashing a political whirlwind in Britain.

Ukip gained 10 new MEPs and finished taking 27.5pc of the vote and 23 MEPs.

With all 70 seats in England, Scotland and Wales declared, UKIP had 24 seats, Labour 20, and the Conservatives 19.

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said the outcome would "terrify" the older parties and predicted his party could now go on to hold the balance of power at Westminster. The European result marks "the most extraordinary result in 100 years," he said.

Mr Farage said that the result would bring fundamental change to British politics. He said: "The political establishment will be terrified by this. They will all have to do a very large amount of soul-searching and realise that the usual platitude 'We're listening' isn't enough."

He said that Labour and the Lib Dems were the main losers from the Ukip advance. "It is going to be disastrous for Ed Miliband, disastrous for Nick Clegg and a poor night for David Cameron," he said.

Mr Farage has said he wants to use the results as a springboard to mount a serious challenge in next year's general election. He has said he will run in a Kent constituency, with Thanet South thought to be his most likely choice.

"We will go on next year to the general election with a targeted strategy and I promise you this – you haven't heard the last of us," Mr Farage said.

Ukip has said it will target 20 to 30 constituencies next year and Patrick O'Flynn, one of the party's new MEPs, suggested it could win a handful of seats: "Four, five, six, seven, 10, who knows?"

Mr Farage said that the weakness of the main parties meant he could end up holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament next year.

"It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we could get enough MPs to hold the balance of power. All I can say is we go on surprising people," he said.

It was the first time the main opposition party has failed to win a European election since 1984 and a serious setback to Ed Miliband.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Clegg, whose party was braced for another electoral disaster. He has been urged by a Lib Dem MP and activists to stand down because he is no longer a "credible" leader of the party.

More than 200 people, including Lib Dem candidates, have signed a letter calling for Mr Clegg to be replaced as leader, an outcome that might raise doubts about the coalition's ability to last until next year's election.

The Lib Dems won 11 MEPs in 2009, but were left with just a single representative after this year's election.

The party were completely wiped out in the south-west, a traditional stronghold for the Lib Dems.

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, said the party faced "shattering" losses. Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Energy Secretary, said the party was having a "very bad night" but insisted Mr Clegg would survive.

Labour sources insisted that the result was positive for the party, saying Labour was making gains in marginal Westminster constituencies.

Chuka Ummuna, Labour's shadow business secretary, said: "We have to keep this in perspective. Look at Ukip's share of the vote in the local election; they didn't win a single council so they are going to have some hurdles. But we take them seriously and we respect the result."

But the failure to beat Ukip in the European election will intensify Labour doubts about the performance of Mr Miliband and his strategy for dealing with Ukip. Labour MPs including members of the shadow front bench believe that he has failed to accept that Ukip presents a political threat to Labour.

Before the result, Frank Field, a former Labour minister, warned that Ukip posed "the greatest threat" to his party.

"If we are to win next year, it will be Ukip that becomes our main opposition," he said. "If we lose, after the country going through the worst recession ever, we could see part of our vote moving over permanently."

Conservative sources said the party expected to finish third, although closer to the Labour share of the vote than many had expected.

The result is the latest sign of how the Conservatives are struggling to curb the rise of Ukip in recent years.

A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative vice-chairman, found Labour was on course to win the general election because Ukip was taking away significant numbers of Tory voters in key marginal constituencies.

Still, Tory sources last night pointed out that the party's share of the vote had barely fallen in south-west England and in Wales. In Scotland, where Ukip was on course for its first MEP, the Conservative vote actually rose.

Some Conservative MPs have called for a general election pact with Ukip next year, something Mr Cameron has flatly rejected (© Daily Telegraph London).

Irish Independent

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