Charles Kennedy hailed a breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats as they won their first Euro-MP in the North-east, previously barren territory for the party.
The victory, on a night when the Liberal Democrat vote held up despite a surge of support for the UK Independence Party, came after the party won control of Newcastle City Council.
The Liberal Democrats won 17.8 per cent of the vote in the region, a sharp increase on their 13.5 per cent share in the last European elections and enough to win it one of the three seats on offer. Teacher Fiona Hall became the party's first MEP in the North-east.
Mr Kennedy said: "Taken together with the local election results, this means it is the Liberal Democrats who will be challenging Labour in the former heartlands in the next general election."
In London, the party retained its Euro-MP, Sarah Ludford, as its share of the vote rose from 11.7 per cent to 15.3 per cent. It also held on to its seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, where its support increased from 14.4 per cent to 15.6 per cent.
Lord Rennard, the Liberal Democrat chief executive, said it seemed to be the only one of the three main parties not to be losing support.
"The Conservative and Labour parties are at their lowest level since either of them began fighting elections on a national basis," he said.
The Liberal Democrats also held on to their seat in the South-west and their two seats in the South-east.
The vote for the Green Party was also holding up in early results. It retained the London seat held by Jean Lambert and the South-east seat represented by Caroline Lucas.
But George Galloway, the former Labour MP, failed in his bid in the capital to win a European seat for the Respect coalition of anti-war groups and Muslim organisations. He picked up 4.8 per cent of the ballot, with 91,175 votes.
He vowed that future elections would see his party "give Tony Blair a bloody good hiding" and signalled that he planned to stand in east London at the next election.
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