By James Kirkup, Political Editor, The Telegraph
Ed Miliband's hopes of winning next year’s general election were seriously undermined by the UK Independence Party’s surge in the local and European elections on Friday.
Nigel 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.
Previously, Ukip’s major advances had largely been at the expense of the Conservatives, who also continued to suffer in the latest polls.
The development saw Labour MPs openly attacking their leader with members of the shadow cabinet at odds over how to counter the emerging Ukip threat.
Opposition leaders have won previous mid-term local elections by large margins but Labour’s position has deteriorated since 2012.
Nigel Farage celebrates with two supporters during a visit to Basildon, Essex (PA)
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 said he was confident of winning the European elections, the results of which are announced on Sunday 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.”
David Cameron insisted that he understood the “frustration” of those turning to Mr Farage’s party.
Conservative Cabinet ministers suggested that more would be done to introduce policies to limit immigration and renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
However, the Prime Minister ruled out forming any pact with Ukip before the general election and senior Conservatives remained privately hopeful that disaffected voters would back the Tories in next year’s poll.
Boris Johnson, the London mayor, said: “It’s very striking that Labour does not seem to have made anything like the gains you would expect at this stage. I certainly wouldn’t be measuring up the curtains for Downing Street if I were Ed Miliband.”
Ukip’s surge into Labour areas led to apparent turmoil among senior opposition figures over how to respond to the threat posed by Mr Farage.
One Labour frontbencher described the party’s response to the results as “farcical”.
He said: “The results aren’t all that bad, but we can’t even agree on what to say about them or about Ukip so we look ridiculous.”
“The leadership have been trying to say that everything is fine,” another source said.
“But there is a lot of anger towards Ed Miliband and his team. Things are not going as well as they should be.”
However Mr Miliband said the party had done well. “I think we ran a good campaign” Mr Miliband insisted. “I believe that we can persuade people that Labour can offer answers.”
But Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said Labour was not doing well enough. “It’s not good enough yet for Labour. We’ve got more to do if we’re going to really win the argument.”
Labour gained more than 270 council seats and won control of local authorities from the Conservatives in London and Derbyshire, also gaining the largest share of the vote.
But Ukip gains helped deny Labour victory in Thurrock in Essex, one of its top targets for next year’s general election. Mr Miliband’s party also fell short in key councils such as Swindon, Walsall and Tamworth, and failed to take Trafford from the Tories.
One of the results that did most to shake Labour was in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, a traditional Labour stronghold where Ukip took 10 council seats.
Pollsters believe that Ukip is making inroads in many areas because of its anti-immigration policies. But Mr Miliband pointedly failed to mention the issue on Friday, suggesting Ukip voters were mainly unhappy about the economy.
By contrast, several members of his shadow cabinet, including Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, and Mr Balls said Labour was not seen as tough enough on immigration.
John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire said that Mr Miliband had taken a “disastrous” decision to ignore Ukip’s appeal to Labour voters and not confront Mr Farage’s party, blaming “pointy heads at the top of the party” who believed Ukip only threatened the Tories.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, said Mr Miliband lacked personal appeal among her constituents, who felt “a slight disconnect from him”.
The results showed a growing political divide between London and the rest of the country. Labour won several key councils in the capital, while Ukip struggled to make gains.
The Telegraph: Attention Toffs & Muffins: London-land Can’t Ignore This Protest...A Tempest In A Teapot, It is Not.
The Guardian: Revenge of the 'Swivel-Eyed Loons'! Ukip's Success Is No False Dawn – It's Time To Stop The Sneering And Put Away Our Muffin-PM's Childish Talk Of 'Fruitcakes, Loonies, And Closet Racists
Local Elections 2014: Nigel Farage's Success Throws Labour Into Crisis and Severely Undermines Ed Miliband's Hopes of Winning 2015 General Election
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