3:38am update: After an interminable wait for the London result, owing to the farcical peformance of Tower Hamlets council (which ended up postponing its count until Tuesday), the final numbers are finally in:
Ukip 27.5 per cent – 24 seats (up 11)
Labour 25.4 per cent – 20 seats (up 7)
Conservative 24.0 per cent – 19 seats (down 7)
Green Party 7.9 per cent – 3 seats (up 1)
Lib Dems 6.9 per cent – 1 seat (down 10)
SNP 2 seats (N/C)
Plaid Cymru 1 seat (N/C)
Nigel Farage has got his “earthquake”. Just two regional results are in from the European elections, but Labour has privately conceded defeat. The swing to the Farageists in the north-east and the east of England is too great for any other outcome to be conceivable.
A Labour source told me that all signs pointed to a Ukip victory, “a result we’ve been expecting for months”, in a contest in which the nationalist right is thriving. In France, the National Front has won the contest and in Denmark the anti-immigrant People’s Party topped the poll. While Labour has become the first main opposition party not to win the European elections since 1984, party sources are emphasising that the Tories are on course to finish third in a national contest for the first time in history and that David Cameron will become the first Conservative leader since John Major not to win the European elections.
They also rightly point out that the contest is a historically poor guide to general election results. In 1989, the Greens finished third with 15 per cent of the vote but won just 0.5 per cent at the national contest three years later. In 1999, William Hague’s Tories triumphed but went down to a landslide defeat against Labour in 2001. Ukip polled 16 per cent in 2004 and 17 per cent in 2009 but failed to exceed three per cent in the subsequent general elections. In an age of euroscepticism, a pro-European party like Labour was always bound to struggle to withstand the purple wave.
Ukip’s triumph was hardly unexpected (indeed, it would have been seen as a failure for Farage if his party had finished second), but it is worth reflecting how remarkable it is that a party that has no MPs, runs no councils and that won just 3 per cent of the vote at the last general election, topped the poll. Not since 1910 has a party other than Labour and the Tories finished first in a national contest. Farage will rightly enjoy his moment in the sun. The question now is whether he can sustain Ukip’s momentum by winning seats at the general election.