Triumphant Farage turns sights on Westminster
The leader of UKIP (UK Independence Party) Nigel Farage has warned Britain's main political parties that "the fox is now in the hen house", having emerged as the big winner in the British local elections.
Such was the success of UKIP that Labour leader Ed Miliband's hopes of winning next year's general election were seriously undermined.
Mr Farage proclaimed that UKIP had become a "serious player" in British politics after it managed to win council seats in traditional Labour strongholds – and areas which Mr Miliband must secure if he is to become prime minister.
The local elections saw UKIP gain more than 150 council seats in both Labour and Conservative heartlands – including some key marginal areas of Essex. The Liberal Democrats suffered humiliation in several areas. Mr Farage also said he was confident of winning the European elections, the results of which are announced tomorrow evening.
The "Ukip fox is in the Westminster hen house", Mr Farage declared. "There are areas of the country where now we have got an imprint in local government," he said. "This party is going to break through into the Westminster parliament next year," he added.
With Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat recriminations in full swing, Mr Farage insisted that he was already focused on translating his surge to the general election – giving his strongest hint yet that he will stand in a Kent constituency.
He also stressed that he would keep highlighting concerns about immigration despite accusations of racism, arguing that it will be an "even bigger" issue in next year's general election.
The combative words came as David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg were left licking their wounds and counting the cost of a bruising night at the polls, and the indicators point to further difficult European parliament results . The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have already lost hundreds of councillors as UKIP shouldered its way into "bellwether" parts of Essex, including Basildon.
Mr Cameron dismissed calls from some backbenchers for a Conservative pact with Mr Farage and conceded that he needed to convince voters that he had "answers" on the issue of immigration
But Mr Miliband is facing the most serious questions after Labour failed to make the sort of gains required to suggest that he can get a parliamentary majority next year. The party performed well in London but nerves have been heightened by strong progress for Mr Farage in traditional Labour heartlands. According to BBC projections with most councils declared, Labour achieved the highest vote share with 31pc, but critically its 2pc advantage over the Conservatives would not be enough for outright victory in the next general election.
Backbenchers Graham Stringer and David Lammy broke ranks to voice criticism of the leadership, after a difficult campaign that featured a number of perceived gaffes by Mr Miliband. The former mayor of London Ken Livingstone suggested Labour had "woken up a bit late" to the threat from UKIP.
Mr Miliband dismissed criticism of the campaign and his performance, insisting there were deeper forces at work.
"I think in some parts of the country we've had discontent building up for decades about the way the country has been run and about the way our economy works and people feeling that the country just doesn't work for them," he said.
"And so what you are seeing in some parts of the country is people turning to UKIP as an expression of that discontent and that desire for change."
Mr Clegg of the Liberal Democrats also blamed a "very strong anti-politics feeling" among voters – making clear that he would not be resigning to take responsibility for the collapse in his party's support.
"I certainly accept that there is a very strong anti-politics mood around, not only in our country but in many other parts of Europe as well. I think you will see that in European elections in the days to come," the deputy prime minister said.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)