Labour triumph as UKIP claim to be 'second party of North'
Opposition wins three by-elections as Tories trail behind UKIP and Lib Dems lose two deposits
LABOUR won three by-elections last night, holding the safe seats of Middlesbrough, Croydon North and Rotherham. The results were expected, but it was nevertheless a miserable night for the coalition and a good night for the low-immigration, anti-Europe party, UKIP.
The UK Independence Party came second in Middlesbrough and Rotherham, with the Conservatives trailing in fifth behind the BNP and Respect in the latter. The Lib Dems lost their deposit in two contests where their share of the vote was below five per cent: Rotherham and Croydon North.
Labour increased their majorities in Middlesbrough and Croydon North. In Rotherham, where the by-election was forced by the resignation of Denis MacShane over an expenses scandal, Labour's majority was halved, but the party's candidate Sarah Champion (above) still won by a comfortable 5,178 votes.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed his party's best election result yet in Rotherham, saying they were now "the second party in the North". He went on: "Our previous best ever by-election result a fortnight ago [in Corby] was 14.3 per cent and this one is comfortably over 20 per cent. UKIP is on the rise."
UKIP's vote is thought to have been boosted in Rotherham by a row over local foster parents having their children removed by social services because they were members of UKIP.
According to The Times, Farage said the foster fiasco might have had a slight bearing on the party's success but he downplayed its overall impact.
Elections expert Professor John Curtice, talking to the BBC's Today programme, highlighted what is becoming a worrying trend for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. "UKIP have clearly outpolled the Liberal Democrats in this year's seven parliamentary by-elections," he said.
The bookies are even saying UKIP are odds on to win one or more seats at the next General Election, with William Hill offering 5/2.
Former Labour minister John Healey said the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was in serious trouble. "The coalition parties are absolutely nowhere to be seen. This is a collapse of their vote," he told Sky News.
"We haven't seen any big names, or little names, from the Tories during this campaign. David Cameron has big questions to ask. It looks like they have surrendered the North to Labour, and perhaps UKIP as well."
Eurosceptic Tory MP Douglas Carswell took the opportunity to send a message to Cameron, who this week rejected the idea of making a deal with UKIP over a EU referendum in order to defuse the threat they pose.
"After Rotherham, are we still so sure of that no-pact-with-UKIP-under-any-circumstances thing? Tactics ain't strategy, folk," tweeted Carswell.