Ukip surge in local elections ahead of EU poll
By Benjamin Fox
Nigel Farage's Ukip made its strongest performance in local elections in its twenty year history, raising expectations that the anti-EU party is poised to win Sunday's European elections.
UK voters went to the polls on Thursday (22 May) to elect representatives on 161 local councils, as well as the 73 UK members of the European Parliament.
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With more than 90 percent of results in from Thursday's elections, Ukip had gained more than 150 of the 3,500 local council seats up for grabs.
As expected, the opposition Labour party made the biggest gains, gaining control of six local town halls and close to 300 seats, taking their total to more than 1,800. The biggest losers, meanwhile, were the pro-European Liberal Democrats who lost over 250 seats and continue to suffer from being the junior coalition partner in the UK's Conservative-led government.
A party memo sent to Liberal Democrat officials warned that the party could expect to lose all 11 MEPs it saw elected in 2009.
For their part, the Conservatives incurred more modest losses, losing around 200 seats but electing over 1,200 councillors. Prime minister David Cameron rejected some of his MPs' calls for a pre-election pact with Farage ahead of next year's general election.
"We are the Conservative party. We don't do pacts and deals. We are fighting all-out for an all-out win at the next election," he said.
At 36 percent, the turnout was slightly up on the 34.7 percent figure from 2009.
Although Ukip does not have a majority in any local authority, it is now the main opposition in a string of councils and is gradually emerging as a force in town hall politics. The largest proportion of the party's gains came in the east of England. However, Ukip gained ten seats in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, a traditional stronghold for the Labour party.
A strong base of Ukip councillors in local government will put them in a strong position to compete in future local elections, and offer encouragement that the party could win its first seat in the House of Commons next year.
"The Ukip fox is in the Westminster hen house," Farage told media on Friday (23 May). "There are areas of the country where now we have got an imprint in local government."
Exit polls under wraps
Exit polls for the European elections, remain under wraps and will not be announced until Sunday evening.
But a BBC projection of the national vote share based on the local election results put Labour top on 31 percent, followed by the Conservatives on 29 percent, with UKip on 17 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 13 percent.
However, the results will not dilute Ukip expectations that they will top the poll for the European Parliament when the votes for the UK's 73 MEPs are counted on Sunday.
Going into the elections, Ukip had a total of 219 councillors, far fewer than the main three parties. Final surveys put Ukip marginally ahead of Labour for the EU assembly elections, with both parties expected to have at least twenty MEPs elected.