British anti-EU party takes second seat in blow for Cameron

21st November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP) celebrated winning its second parliament seat in a blow for the government that further fragments the political landscape ahead of next year's general election.

Mark Reckless was re-elected in Rochester and Strood in southeast England, after defecting from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party to UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and put strict quotas on immigration.

Furious campaigning by the Conservatives failed to stem the UKIP advance and their candidate lagged behind on 35 percent with Reckless at 42 percent.

Cameron promised to "throw everything" at Thursday's by-election battle and visited the constituency himself five times to campaign.

Reacting to the defeat, the prime minister vowed he was "absolutely determined to win" the seat back in next year's national vote, but UKIP leader Nigel Farage insisted he was "absolutely confident" his camp would hold it.

In his acceptance speech, Reckless made an appeal to all voters to make UKIP the kingmaker at the general election in May 2015 in the increasingly likely outcome of a hung parliament in which no party has an overall majority.

"Whatever constituency you live in, whatever your former party allegiance, think about what it would mean to have a bloc of UKIP MPs at Westminster large enough to hold the balance of power," Reckless said.

"If you believe that the world is bigger than Europe, if you believe in an independent Britain, then come with us and we will give you back your country."

Farage hailed a "huge, huge victory".

"They (the Conservatives) threw the kitchen sink at it, but despite their boasts, we have beaten the ruling party of the day in this life and death struggle," he told Sky News.

- 'Not supposed to win' -

It is the second seat snatched by UKIP after another Conservative defector, Douglas Carswell, won UKIP its first elected seat in the national parliament in a September by-election in Clacton.

Speculation over further defections to UKIP swirled after Reckless suggested two more Conservative lawmakers could switch -- an idea quickly dismissed by senior Conservative politicians.

Cameron has already promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership if his party wins next year's general election and has taken a harder stance on immigration in a bid to reassure wavering voters.

The opposition Labour Party has been forced to do the same as polls show rising pro-UKIP sentiment among disgruntled former supporters.

Experts said the latest vote result could prove a key moment in the history of British politics, proving UKIP can attract a broad range of voters.

"UKIP was not supposed to win this by-election," said Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at Nottingham University.

- 'Never been as uncertain' -

The growing support for UKIP is likely to make it harder for either the centre-right Conservative Party or the centre-left Labour Party to win an outright majority in what is set to be closely-fought election in May.

"All bets are off for the general election next year, literally anything could happen," said Farage.

But some commentators questioned whether Thursday's by-election might be a protest vote that could wane as the general election approaches.

"I think what you're broadly seeing is the voters using by-elections as a means of expressing their discontent at all the mainstream parties," said political commentator and columnist for the Daily Telegraph Dan Hodges.

National opinion polls show Labour slightly ahead of the Conservatives, each with roughly a third of the vote, and UKIP's support steadily rising.

A YouGov poll for The Sun newspaper on Wednesday showed UKIP at 14 percent, the Liberal Democrats at seven percent and the Green party at six percent.

The by-election results showed the two main parties that have dominated post-war politics are losing support to insurgent parties on the left and right, mirroring trends across Europe and leaving pollsters puzzled about the possible make-up of the next parliament, and who will form the government.

"I've never been as uncertain this close to a general election how these things are going to play out," said Peter Kellner, president of pollster YouGov.

© 2014 AFP

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