Cameron under pressure after eurosceptic party makes gains
By Benjamin Fox
David Cameron will come under increasing pressure to bring forward plans for an 'in/out' referendum on EU membership, after the UK Independence party made its strongest ever showing in local government elections.
With counting underway in local council elections on Thursday (2 May), the anti-EU party was poised to claim between 15-20 per cent of the vote nationwide, relegating the Liberal Democrats into fourth place and potentially securing more than 100 local councillors.
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Although UKIP performed strongly in the European elections in 2004 and 2009, it has previously failed to make any headway in town hall politics.
Meanwhile, in the South Shields by-election, a safe Labour seat in the north-east vacated by former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, UKIP finished a strong second taking 24 percent of the vote. Labour retained the seat with 50.5 percent while the Conservatives were relegated to third with 11.5 percent.
The anti-EU party has still yet to elect its first MP but has now finished in second place in five of the last six by-elections. With the Liberal Democrats unpopular because of their role in the Coalition, UKIP has fast become the main protest vote party in UK politics.
Nigel Farage, UKIP's leader and an MEP, described his party's performance as "remarkable".
"I think if we get a by-election that comes up in the next few months that is not a safe Tory or Labour seat but is a marginal, we have every chance of winning it," he said.
UKIP's breakthrough will pile more pressure on Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to take a tougher stance on immigration and the EU.
In February, he promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership if he wins a second term in 2015 as prime minister before holding an 'in/out' referendum.
However, eurosceptic Tories are keen to bring the referendum forward to take away UKIP's trump card.
Despite a very modest performance in 2010, UKIP still claimed enough votes in a handful of marginal seats to deny the Conservatives a parliamentary majority.
Evidence suggests that while most UKIP voters are former Conservative supporters, the party is also taking votes from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Opinion polls suggest that most Britons want the country to have a looser, trade oriented relationship with the rest of the EU, while a small majority would vote to leave the bloc in a straight 'in/out' poll
UKIP also believe that they have a good chance of topping the poll at next year's European elections having finished in second place with 17 percent in 2009.