Ukip has been buoyed by a string of strong results in parliamentary by-elections. Supporters believe it can win its first seat in Westminster in the coming years. But can the party led by Nigel Farage (pictured above) actually make that breakthrough?
Good times for Ukip
Nobody can disagree that Ukip has had several good months. The party has enjoyed rising support in the polls, has received vital press coverage and strived to become a more professional organisation.
The eurosceptic party also got a boost by the controversy that blew up when Rotherham social workers removed three children from foster parents because the couple were Ukip members.
Strong by-election results for Ukip
And it has culminated in two second places in parliamentary by-elections in Middlesbrough and Rotherham – where Ukip recorded its best ever by-election result.
The party’s Rotherham candidate secured 21.8% of the vote, beating its previous best such result of 14.3% in the Corby by-election two weeks ago.
In Middlesbrough, Ukip jumped from last place at the 2010 general election to second with 11.8% of the vote.
Tough times for the Liberal Democrats
Ukip is also benefiting from the coalition government’s mid-term blues. For Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, it’s been a miserable time.
The party that once picked up protest votes is now part of the government. In some quarters, there’s a feeling that the Lib Dems betrayed its supporters by striking the coalition deal with the Tories.
And they are now getting a kicking at the ballot box.
The Lib Dems clung onto third place in Middlesbrough. In Rotherham, the party came eighth and lost its deposit. That’s behind George Galloway’s Respect party and the BNP. At the by-election for Croydon North, the Lib Dem candidate was fourth and lost their deposit.
Not much better for the Tories
David Cameron won’t be happy with his party’s performance. Fourth in Middlesbrough and fifth in Rotherham.
The rise of Ukip has also left the prime minister with a particular problem. The EU is mired in economic and political problems. Ukip’s call for Britain to leave the EU has found favour among sections of the Conservative party.
And there are worries that Tory voters are switching to Ukip. One Conservative MP has suggested an electoral pact with Ukip could help his party win at least 20 seats. Another fear for Mr Cameron could be a Conservative MP defecting to Ukip.
Are Ukip a threat to Labour?
Labour won the Corby seat from the Tories at a by-election earlier this month. And party leader Ed Miliband will be happy with his party winning the latest by-elections in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North.
But Ukip leader Nigel Farage is confident his party can beat Labour in its northern strongholds by winning over patriotic “old Labour” voters.
Tom Wilkinson,PA Wire
A decisive breakthrough for Ukip?
Richard Elvin, Ukip’s Middlesbrough candidate, (pictured above) told MSN News that he was upbeat about his party winning a seat in the UK parliament.
That’s despite the first past the post system used to elect MPs, which it’s argued disadvantages smaller political parties.
“There is a sea change taking place in British politics,” said Mr Elvin. “I would think there is a pretty good chance it is going to happen.
“It just depends on how many by-elections we have. Our stock is rising. But there is every chance we could get an MP elected on the first past the post system before the general election.”
He predicted Ukip will become the main opposition to Labour in the north and to the Tories in the south. It’s no longer a single issue party, according to Mr Elvin.
Ukip’s strategy is to fight every election it can at a local and national level, using that and elections to the European parliament in 2014 as a springboard for a breakthrough in Westminster.
Votes up for grabs
Redcar Lib Dem MP Ian Swales, who campaigned in Middlesbrough, told MSN News that there was a “churn” of votes going on.
His party had lost votes to Labour, but picked up support from wavering Tories. Meanwhile, the Conservatives had leaked votes to Ukip rather than Labour, said Mr Swales.
The Lib Dem MP admitted it had been a tough night for the coalition parties, but added: “Kicking the government has become a national sport.”
Views on the EU were hardening, said Mr Swales, and Ukip would make progress although it could be limited by its organisation.
He added the system used to elect MPs made it extremely difficult for smaller parties to make a breakthrough.
But it was “just possible” that Ukip could win a parliamentary seat if it targeted an area with a particular issue and flooded it with resources – pointing to the Green party’s success in Brighton.