NIGEL Farage said Ukip could become a major force in Parliament after next year’s general election, following its victory in the Rochester and Strood by-election.
The Ukip leader said yesterday that Mark Reckless’s victory made him believe that in May the party could win anywhere in the country.
He also said he would be “very surprised” if more Tory MPs did not now choose to jump ship and join his party in the run-up to the general election next year.
Mr Reckless took 16,867 votes, 2,920 more than Conservative Kelly Tolhurst’s 13,947, with Labour’s Naushabah Khan on 6,713 – ahead of the Green Party.
The Lib Dems came fifth with their lowest vote total in a by-election.
Mr Reckless, whose defection from the Tories to Ukip triggered the contest in Kent, travelled to London soon after his election to take his seat in
As he was sworn in at the House of Commons, he was joined by Ukip’s other MP, Douglas Carswell, another former Conservative who won a by-election last month.
However, yesterday David Cameron vowed to win back Rochester and Strood for the Conservatives after seeing Ukip secure its second by-election triumph over the Tories in the space of six weeks.
Among the Conservative high command, there was relief that the final result was closer than many commentators had been predicting.
In the aftermath of the vote, a number of prominent Tory Eurosceptics – including John Baron, Philip Davies and Stewart Jackson – came out to declare their continuing allegiance to the party.
Before the by-election, the Prime Minister put his authority on the line, visiting the constituency five times during the course of the campaign.
The party originally vowed to “throw the kitchen sink” at the campaign to halt the Ukip bandwagon, but in recent weeks they had been playing down expectations as the polls consistently pointed to a Ukip victory.
Mr Cameron said yesterday: “I am absolutely determined to win this seat back at the next general election because anything other than a Conservative government will put our recovery at risk and Ed Miliband in Downing Street. I am more determined than ever to deliver security for Britain.”
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Mr Farage said the result – in Ukip’s 271st target seat – showed that his party was now capable of winning anywhere in the country.
“We have beaten the governing party of the day in this sort of life and death struggle. It represents a huge, huge victory,” he said.
“I would be very surprised, given where we are, if there weren’t more defections between now and the next general election.
“They won’t happen today, they won’t happen tomorrow, but over the course of the next few weeks people will be thinking and perhaps some of them saying to themselves, ‘You know what, I have got a better chance of winning on a purple ticket than I have on a blue ticket’.”
Leader of the Commons William Hague insisted Conservative MPs had their sights focused on winning the general election in May, but admitted he could not rule out further defections.
“Conservative MPs are very determined to win that general election. I don’t have a crystal ball about what every MP will do, but certainly that is the mood of the Conservative Party at Westminster,” he said.
Backbencher Andrew Bridgen called on Mr Cameron to counter the appeal of Ukip by promising to put himself at the head of the campaign to leave the EU if he was unable to achieve a satisfactory renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership.
“We need the Prime Minister to say that, and I think that will take the legs from under Ukip,” he said.
Mr Reckless suggested Ukip could end up holding the balance of power after the general election.
“Whichever constituency, whatever your former party allegiance, think of what it would mean to have a bloc of Ukip MPs at Westminster large enough to hold the balance of power,” he told cheering supporters.
For Labour – which suffered a polling day embarrassment with the resignation of frontbencher Emily Thornberry over her “snobbish” tweet about a house draped in the flag of St George – it was another bad night as they came in third.
And the Liberal Democrats continued a humiliating string of by-election performances, finishing fifth behind the Greens with just 349 votes and losing another deposit.
Analysis of the voting figures suggests there will again be a hung parliament after next May, however well Ukip performs.
The three major Westminster parties saw their share of the vote fall by similar amounts compared with the last general election: the Lib Dems by 15.39 per cent, Tories by 14.39 per cent and Labour by 11.7 per cent.
Mr Farage said the result showed Ukip was now “gaining traction” with Labour voters.
“I think the Labour Party is in very real trouble with its core vote,” he said.
“I don’t think that traditional Labour voters look at the current Labour leadership and even recognise these people are members of their own tribe.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday admitted there was work to be done: “We know we have got a challenge in relation to Ukip.
“It’s a challenge I’m determined to meet,” he said.
“I think what it says is that there is deep discontent about the country.”
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