Labour is celebrating a clean sweep in three UK by-elections, with dismal results for coalition partners the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
The UK Independence Party (Ukip) took second place in the two northern seats of Rotherham and Middlesbrough, recording its best ever by-election result in the former, where its candidate secured 21.8 per cent of the vote.
It was a disappointing night for both coalition parties, with the Conservatives slumping to fourth in Middlesbrough and fifth in Rotherham.
The Liberal Democrats held on to third place behind Ukip in Middlesbrough, but finished fourth and lost their deposit in Croydon North and suffered a woeful eighth place in Rotherham.
Their Rotherham candidate Michael Beckett lost his deposit and limped in behind not only Labour, Ukip, the British National Party, Respect and the Conservatives, but also the English Democrats and an independent.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the results marked “big progress”, a fortnight after his party recorded its previous best by-election result of 14.3 per cent in Corby.
His party was boosted in Rotherham by the controversy that blew up during the campaign when social workers removed three children from foster parents because the couple were members of Ukip.
In Middlesbrough, the Eurosceptic party moved up from sixth place in the 2010 general election to second, with 11.8 per cent of votes.
“Whichever way you look at it, Ukip is on the rise,” Mr Farage said. “This is Ukip’s most impressive result in Westminster elections so far.
“Jane Collins’ 21 per cent in Rotherham was our best ever score and this is backed up by 11 per cent in Middlesbrough and coming third in Croydon North. This follows our stunning result in Corby a few weeks ago.
“The political establishment is just going to have to wake up to the fact that Ukip is here and here to stay as a significant and rising mainstream part of British politics.”
Speaking after her victory, Rotherham’s new Labour MP, Sarah Champion, urged the government to get the town “back to work”.
She said: “I’ve never stood for election before but when I see the damage David Cameron is doing to Rotherham, I cannot stand and watch.”
Thursday’s by-elections in Middlesbrough and Croydon North were triggered by the deaths of long-serving Labour MPs Sir Stuart Bell and Malcolm Wicks. The Rotherham poll followed the resignation of Denis MacShane in the wake of a highly critical report on the former Labour MP’s parliamentary expenses.
Labour leader Ed Miliband hailed the results as a strong endorsement of “One Nation” Labour.
He said: “Voters in Croydon, Rotherham and Middlesbrough have put their faith in a ‘One Nation’ Labour Party standing up for young people trying to find work and standing up for people whose living standards are being squeezed.”
Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable defended his party’s showing, insisting it was suffering for taking difficult decisions.
“Both the coalition parties did very badly in the result yesterday and unfortunately that is part of the price you pay for being in government,” he said.
Deputy party leader Simon Hughes said: “The Liberal Democrats generally are getting punished for taking the country through a time of austerity. The Labour Party are in difficulty, even in their safe seats. They can’t just assume it’s a walk in the park.”