ED Miliband is facing renewed questions over his leadership of the Labour Party in the wake of a humiliating defeat to George Galloway in Bradford West.
The Respect candidate and former Glasgow Labour MP won a comprehensive victory, taking 57 per cent of the vote in the by-election for the Yorkshire seat.
Labour’s vote collapsed by 20 per cent to see a seat that Marsha Singh won in 2010 with a majority of 6,000 turn into a 10,000 margin of victory for Mr Galloway.
It was a bad night too for the coalition with the Tory vote dropping by 22 per cent and the Liberal Democrats losing their deposit as their support fell by 7 per cent.
The controversial Mr Galloway – famous as an anti-war campaigner, his links to Saddam Hussein and for dressing up as a cat on Celebrity Big Brother – described his victory as the “Bradford Spring”, likening it to the popular revolutions that swept the Arab world last year overturning established dictatorships.
He claimed that the “young people had risen up” in rebellion, backed up by his 85 per cent support from students at Bradford University.
Wearing a long coat and sunglasses, Mr Galloway embarked on an open-top bus tour around his new constituency.
He said: “I think Bradford needs a change. Anybody who knows the city and loves it knows it’s not what it was.”
He added: “This is the Bradford Spring, just like the Cairo Spring and the Tunisian Spring. This is a rejection of the mainstream parties with their Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Tweedledee-and-a-half approach.
“It was people saying they want political leaders they can believe in, who say what they mean, do what they say and don’t lie to people.
“We don’t say one thing to one set of people and something else to another. Neither do we say one thing before an election and something different after.”
Describing his reaction to his victory, Mr Galloway said: “I was maybe the only person in the country who wasn’t surprised.
“If I believed in gambling, which I don’t, I could have made myself a half a millionaire. When I arrived here, I was 200-1.”
Mr Galloway has form in overturning Labour safe seats taking the largely Muslim East London constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow from Blairite Labour MP Oona King in 2005 on the back of his stance against the Iraq war.
However, he failed to get back to Westminster in 2010 and was rejected by Scottish voters in the Holyrood elections last year.
But after two months where Mr Miliband had appeared to see off his critics within the Labour Party and talk of a leadership challenge had quietened, the result has put him under renewed pressure.
The by-election was meant to be the culmination of a good week for the Labour leader after he had successfully attacked the Tories for being out of touch following the reduction of the 50p tax rate for top earners to 45p, along with gaffes from David Cameron and George Osborne over pasties.
The fuel crisis and weeks of attacks on NHS reform by Mr Miliband had seen confidence in his leadership rise and the party open up a ten-point poll lead.
But after the Bradford result Labour MPs, many of whom were unhappy with his leadership especially as he only beat his elder brother David thanks to union votes against the majority of party members and MPs, have again said he needs to do well in the local government elections.
The possibility of failing to hold on to Glasgow, losing London and failing to make gains in the south of England as well as losing out in the north of England to Respect on the back of Mr Galloway’s victory could be enough for the required number of 32 Labour MPs triggering a new leadership contest.
One Labour MP told The Scotsman that Mr Miliband was “lucky” the result had come during the recess when MPs are away from Westminster and there is less chance for them to plot. Another added: “This has certainly put a question mark over his leadership again. He has had a good couple of months but he has never really convinced.”
A third said: “It has brought the local elections back into play, but this was probably just a one off result by a one off candidate.”
Labour MPs also claimed Mr Galloway’s campaign had “virtually incited racial hatred”.
A Labour source conceded that there had been a “late surge” of support for the anti-war campaigner, who was expelled from the party in 2003, and that the contest was “neck and neck”.
He pointed out that the Conservative Party had “absolutely evaporated”.
Mr Miliband said he would be visiting the constituency to see what went wrong describing it as “incredibly disappointing”.
He said: “Clearly there were local factors, but only four out of ten people voted for the three mainstream political parties.
“We’ve got to understand the reasons why that happened in Bradford.”
He added: “We need to be engaged and rooted in every community of this country. We need to show people that our politics, that Labour politics, can make a difference to people’s lives.”
Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi, said governments tended not to win by-elections and the result was more damaging for Labour.
Thursday’s by-election was triggered when sitting MP Marsha Singh resigned on health grounds.