Ukip Leader Nigel Claims Party Is 'Here To Stay' After Best By-Election Results In Party's History (VIDEO)

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The Labour Party may have swept to victory in Thursday's three by-elections but the big political winner of the night was the UK Independence Party (Ukip), which posted the best by-election results in its history.

Bolstered by last weekend's fostering row - which saw two foster carers lose three children because of their Ukip membership - the party came second in Middlesborough and Rotherham and third in Croydon North, leading Nigel Farage to claim his party is becoming "the second party in Northern England".

"Whichever way you look at it UKIP is on the rise," the Ukip leader said on Thursday night, celebrating the party's electoral surge.

"The political establishment is just going to have to wake up to the fact that Ukip is here and here to stay as a significant and rising mainstream part of British politics," the MEP later said.

The party may not have won any seats, but the Ukip's vote share in Rotherham, 21.7%, easily beat the party's previous record, set only a fortnight before in the Corby by-election, of 14.3%.

ukip byelection

Ukip's Jane Collins (left) may have lost out to Labour's Sarah Champion, but it was a landmark night for the party

Ukip beat both coalition parties in two of the three by-elections, and the Liberal Democrats in all three, prompting some Tory MPs to resurrect the idea of a pact between the Conservatives and Ukip in the 2015 General Election.

How to explain the Ukip surge? It wasn't the Eurosceptic vote alone but a combination of doubts over the competence of the Tory party and the appearance of Ukip as an "acceptable alternative" for disgruntled right-leaning voters, according to one of the country's leading psephologists.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University told the Huffington Post UK that since last spring "that the Conservatives have been less popular because of doubts about their competence", in part causing Ukip's rise.

Professor Curtice said recent by-election results showed the public had "less loyalty to big parties" and were more willing to vote for lesser parties in protest, evidenced by the Lib Dems being pushed to eighth place behind parties such as Respect, the BNP and the English Democrats in Rotherham.

farage

The elections were excellent for the Ukip, finishing off a high-profile week for the party

However, Professor Curtice said he was not sure the results would translate into future wins for Ukip. "The problem they face," he told HuffPost UK "is that their vote is too geographically spread."

"Being able to win something is much more difficult," he said. Ukip would have to target a specific location "run a really brilliant campaign, get 30% and scrape home," in order to find themselves in a seat.

Even if the Conservatives announced an in/out EU referendum tomorrow, Curtice said, they would still have plenty of work to do to get ex-Tory voters back from Ukip.

On Friday morning, some Conservative MPs took to Twitter to hint at a revival of campaign strategist Michael Fabricant's recent idea of trading an EU referendum for Ukip pulling candidates from marginal Tory seats - warning a split in the Eurosceptic vote would lose the Tories some 40 seats in 2015.

Farage rejected the suggestion earlier this week, saying his party was "at war" with the Government and David Cameron - who previously called Ukip a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

However, on Friday morning, Fabricant tweeted:


Michael Fabricant
It will not have escaped anyone's attention that UKIP finished second in Rotherham and Middlesbrough and third in Croydon North.

Douglas Carswell, the eurosceptic MP for Harwich, also pondered on a potential pact, tweeting:


Douglas Carswell MP
So. After Rotherham, are we still so sure of that no-pact-with-UKIP-under-any-circumstances thing? Tactics ain't strategy, folk.