Ukip seized their second House of Commons seat in less than two months today - inflicting a humiliating defeat on David Cameron six months ahead of the General Election.
Despite “throwing the kitchen sink” at winning Rochester and Strood the Conservative vote collapsed and Ukip overturned a 10,000 Tory majority to take the seat by 2,920 votes.
Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage said the “massive, massive win” showed that “all bets are off” for the general election.
Rochester was only 271 on Ukip’s target seats at next election before the defection of the former Tory MP Mark Reckless.
“If we can win here we can win across the country,” Mr Reckless said in his victory speech. “If you vote Ukip you get Ukip. We will give you back your country.”
The Tory party chairman Grant Shapps said he was disappointed by the result but added: “The future of this country wasn't on the ballot paper yesterday. It will be in 170 days' time”.
Labour’s share of the vote almost halved to just 16 per cent as the party’s vote was squeezed. The party won just 6,713 votes coming third behind Ukip on 16,867 and the Tories on 13,947.
The Liberal Democrats came in a humiliating fifth place and only 300 votes ahead of a Dominatrix who won last year’s best sex worker award. The Liberal Democrats have now lost their deposit eight times in by-elections since joining the coalitions.
The result, although widely predicted, will still unsettle Tory MPs – especially those fighting marginal seats against Labour.
But it might put off other Conservative MPs considering defecting to Ukip in the run-up to next May given that the result was somewhat closer than the polls had been predicting.
In the end Ukip won by a margin of 7.3 per compared to the polls that had put the margin between ten and fifteen per cent.
Earlier in the day the Chief Whip Michael Gove said he was “100 per cent certain” no other Tory MPs would defect.
Local Tory activists could not hide their bitterness at the success of Mr Reckless who defected to Ukip on the eve of the Tory party conference.
“Him and Carswell can spend the next five months sitting in the Commons talking about who they’re going to repatriate next,” said one. “He’s going to be out in May.”
As Nigel Farage arrived at the count another retorted: “Here comes the drunken bigot.”
Turnout was just over 50 per cent – significantly down on the 64 per cent of register electors who voted at the last general election.
The result is a personal blow to Mr Cameron who staked his political capital on a strong Tory showing.
Unlike Clacton which the Tories also lost to Ukip in a by-election, Rochester was not considered fertile Ukip territory. The seat is more affluent, young and ethnically diverse than the seats Ukip has traditionally targeted and Mr Reckless did not have the same personal following as Douglas Carswell.
Each Conservative MP was ordered to visit the constituency at least three times during the campaign to help the election fight while Mr Cameron himself visited Rochester five times.
The party even spend tens of thousands of pounds organising an open primary of all voters to choose its candidate Kelly Tolhurst.
But despite the efforts of Conservative Central Office the party struggled to sure up its vote against an insurgent Ukip challenge that successfully squeezed the Labour vote.
Mr Farage said Ukip could become the third largest party after May’s general election – ahead of Lib Dems. He said the result would make the general election “impossible to call” and “change British politics”.
“When I think about this campaign, the Prime Minister has come to this constituency five times and 1,000 activists were out there in this constituency, and there was a Conservative telephone poll campaign of astonishing proportions,” he said.
”When they said they would throw the kitchen sink at this by-election, they did.”
Mr Shapps accepted the result would “make it harder to do the things we want to do in terms of controlling immigration, carrying on with this economic recovery”.
But he said the narrower-than-predicted margin of victory for Ukip meant Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst was well placed to wrest back the seat on May 7.
“Over the course of this campaign the gap has closed. They have ended up with about a 7% lead for Mark Reckless. They were predicting something over twice that level. So 2,900 is not a big majority now to try to win back in 170 days time,” he said.
Mr Reckless said his victory had proved that Ukip could win nationwide and urged voters to ensure enough MPs were elected to hold the balance of power after 2015.
“Whichever constituency, whatever your former party allegiance, think of what it would mean to have a bloc of Ukip MPs at Westminster large enough to hold the balance of power,” he said.
“If you believe in freedom, if you believe in low taxes, if you believe in clean government, if you believe in localism, if you believe in people power.
”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."
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