In Depth

UKIP's success will force PM even further to the right

Buoyed by election success, Nigel Farage says 'reverse takeover' of Tory party is on cards

THE stunning success of UKIP in claiming 26 per cent of the vote in the local elections and the South Shields by-election is piling pressure on David Cameron to lurch further to the right.

Basking in the glow of historic gains in the Tory shires, UKIP's leader Nigel Farage told the BBC's Today programme he wanted to engineer a reverse takeover of the Conservative Party.

  • UKIP 'clowns' enjoy last laugh as voters show their support

Farage said he was out to change the Tories as the Social Democratic Party had changed Old Labour. "The SDP won because they finished up with Tony Blair, who was an SDP leader," said Farage. "Foot and Benn and the hard left were gone."

Farage made no secret of wanting to exert the same pressure on Cameron and the Tory Party.  Asked whether it was a "reverse takeover of the Conservative Party", he said: "That's a nice idea."

Cameron was immediately put under pressure from Tory MPs to include an EU referendum bill in the Queen's Speech next Wednesday as a way of stemming the loss of Tory votes to Farage's "clowns", as they were described last week by Ken Clarke.

John Baron, a leading Tory Eurosceptic MP, said Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum was "not yet believable" because people thought it might not happen. Baron last year wrote a letter to the PM – co-signed by 100 Tory MPs  – calling for the referendum bill to be passed before the general election.

Cameron hinted on Wednesday he could bring forward the legislation for an in-out referendum which will ensure it is held after the election. If he follows through with this plan it will be seen as a cynical attempt to show UKIP voters he's serious, because he knows it will be opposed by the Lib Dems and Labour and will split the coalition. Maybe that is what Cameron, deep down, would like.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, issued a warning on the eve of the poll that Cameron was being dragged further to the right. Clegg said it was making the coalition less stable.

The BBC's polling guru, Professor John Curtice, warned Cameron on the Today programme that merely trying "another manoeuvre" on Europe will not be enough to satisfy the voters who switched to UKIP. He said immigration is the big underlying issue that drove the UKIP vote to 26 per cent.

Curtice said UKIP seems to have achieved "an astounding performance of a historic scale". He wrote overnight that the result was the "greatest threat to the established party system since World War Two". He didn't repeat that hyperbole on the Today show, but the message is clear – it's bad new for all three major parties.

For Labour, the results show Ed Miliband and his party are in danger of flatlining, just when Labour should be storming ahead in mid-term against an unpopular coalition in the midst of an economic crisis.

Shadow Communities Minister Hilary Benn told ITV's Daybreak: "UKIP have clearly done very well. It's a party of protest and times are really tough. People are feeling the pain and some people are coming out who haven't voted before and expressing that by voting for UKIP." That prompted the question: yes, but why aren't they voting Labour?

But the big losers of the night could be the Tories' coalition allies the Lib Dems. On this showing they could be virtually wiped out in 2015. The Tories were quick to point out that the Lib Dems were losing seats in almost all areas.

They limped to seventh place in South Shields, just 155 votes ahead of the Monster Raving Loony candidate Howling Laud Hope.  David Owen folded the SDP when it was overtaken by the Monster Raving Loony Party in the Bootle by-election in 1990. That's why the "clowns" are no joke for Nick Clegg.

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