Labour coasted to a comfortable victory today in the South Shields by-election, with the UK Independence Party finishing in a strong second place.
The contest was triggered by the decision of the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to stand down to become the head of a charity based in New York.
Defeat in a seat Labour has held for 78 years would have been a disaster for the party, but Emma Lewell-Buck, a South Tyneside councillor, held on with 12,493 votes and 50 per cent share of the vote.
But the party saw its majority cut to 6,505 as Ukip’s Richard Elvin won 5,988 votes. At the general election Mr Miliband piled up a majority of 11,109 and 52 per cent of the vote.
Ukip did not even stand in South Shields three years ago, but appears to have benefited from a fall in support from all three major parties.
Its impressive performance follows its second place finishes in recent by-elections in Eastleigh, Middlesbrough and Rotherham.
It underlines the momentum building behind the anti-European Union party across much of England and suggests Ukip is managing to reach out to disillusioned former Labour and Liberal Democrat voters as well as Conservatives.
The Conservatives came third with just 2,857 votes, while the Liberal Democrats suffered the indignity of losing their deposit as they finished seventh with 352 votes. Nick Clegg's party trailed in behind two independent candidates and the British National Party.
The results were declared ahead of the results from yesterday’s local council elections.
The Conservatives are expected to lose at least 300 seats, while Labour are tipped to pick up about 350. The wild card factor will be the impact of the expected surge in support for Ukip on the other parties.