The early story of the local elections, with 52 of 161 councils declared, is the most remarkable surge yet by Ukip. From a standing start in some areas, it has taken dozens of seats off the Tories and Labour and hugely increased its vote share.
In Rotherham, the party gained nine seats, defeating Labour’s leader and deputy leader and becoming the official opposition. In Thurrock, a key Labour general election target, it gained five and deprived Labour of overall control. If anyone was in doubt that Ukip is now a problem for Ed Miliband as well as David Cameron, this morning’s results have served as dramatic confirmation.
Elsewhere, the party gained 11 seats in Basildon, depriving the Tories of overall control and achieving the same feat in Castle Point and Southend. Three Conservative MPs – Douglas Carswell, Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg have responded by renewing their call for an electoral pact with Ukip and have been swiftly slapped down by Grant Shapps.
Nor have the Lib Dems been spared. They lost control of Portsmouth council after Ukip won six seats, including that held by Mike Hancock. In total, the Farageists have gained 82 seats. As Labour is emphasising, we have entered a new era of four-party politics.
But in London, a strikingly different picture is emerging. While polling in excess of 25 per cent outside of the capital, Ukip is struggling to exceed 10 per cent inside of it – and Labour is making dramatic gains. The party has just won control of the Conservative fortresss of Hammersmith and Fulham (known as “David Cameron’s favourite council”) having earlier gained Merton. Redbridge and Croydon are also expected to fall to Labour this morning.
After a grim start to the evening for the party, with Graham Stringer declaring that Miliband lacks “an immediate appeal to the electorate” and describing his error over his shopping bill as “unforgivably unprofessional”, Labour spirits are starting to lift. Alongside the gains in London, where a radical and energetic campaign led by Sadiq Khan is paying dividends, the party has just gained Cambridge, a key general election target. If this trend continues, it will be in a position to claim it has taken steps forward to victory next year.
As for Ukip, even before the European election results are announced, Westminster is already feeling the force of Farage’s “earthquake”.