Ukip results reveal divide between London and rest of England

Crack Split

A deep geographical split has emerged in Ukip's popularity, after the party built new strongholds in coastal and market towns in local elections but failed to win more than a handful of seats in London.

Experts estimated that Ukip was polling more than 20% in most of the country, helping to unseat at least five Conservative, three Labour and one Liberal Democrat local authorities. But its polling was at 7% in London, where Labour gains were dominant and turned four of the outer suburbs red.

Nigel Farage declared he had unleashed a "Ukip fox in the Westminster henhouse" and continued to predict a victory in the European elections, the results of which are due on Sunday. However, the party's poor showing in the capital may have helped push the party's overall share of the vote below 17%, significantly lower than its 23% share in local elections last year and well below both Labour and the Conservatives.

One prominent Ukip candidate, Suzanne Evans, attributed Ukip's failure to gain ground in London to its "more media-savvy and educated" population, in contrast to the rest of the country.

The former Tory Merton councillor who defected to Ukip but lost her seat, told the BBC: "[In London, voters] are more likely, I think, to have read some of the negative press that's been about us, and I think they'd be more likely to believe it, whereas people outside of London have, I think, been fairly cynical about the media campaign and the campaign that the other parties have waged against us."

She suggested the "educated, cultured and young" in the capital were less likely to vote for Ukip and claimed the party was unlike the "metropolitan elite" in being able to understand the "heartache" felt by the rest of the country.

Professor John Curtice, a psephologist at Strathclyde University, said the results showed the share of the vote going to Farage's party had dropped since last year, but "anybody who thought that the Ukip bubble was going to be easily deflated should now be disabused of that notion".

"They have managed to maintain most of the support they have had over the last 12 months and repeated it at these local elections. To that extent at least they have done remarkably well," he told the BBC.

In London, Ukip did not pick up a single councillor in Redbridge, Merton, Richmond, Sutton, Enfield, Haringey or Wandsworth, with only a couple of seats in Bexley. However, its decision to field candidates across London boroughs may have helped Labour to victory by splitting the rightwing vote in places such as Croydon, which Miliband's party took off the Conservatives.

Mike Fisher, Croydon borough's ousted Tory leader of eight years blamed Ukip for the loss. Although Labour increased its vote in key wards and delivered turnouts of close to 50% in some cases, Ukip consistently came second and third in many wards.

"When we were canvassing nobody was saying they were for Ukip because it's still a guilty secret," Fisher said. "But the level of support has come out today. Voters are using this as an opportunity to rebel and I hope that when it comes to the general election people will look at the policies of the main parties. The annoying thing here is that Ukip have lots of votes but no seats. Many of those Ukip voters are Conservatives and they will be horrified to wake up this morning to a Labour council."

In the rest of the country, a stronger picture emerged for Farage's party with 28 new Ukip councillors helping to topple the Tories in Basildon, Southend-on-Sea, Maidstone, Peterborough and Castle Point. Malcolm Buckley, the former leader of Basildon council who was ousted by Ukip, criticised David Cameron for "not getting it" on the issues of immigration and the European Union.

Ukip's gain of six new councillors in Portsmouth meant the Liberal Democrats lost control of the authority, ejecting their longstanding councillor and MP Mike Hancock who was suspended by the party in January following a leaked report into claims of sexual misconduct, which he denies, towards a female constituent. However, Farage's party failed to replicate this success in nearby Eastleigh, where it nearly won a byelection in 2010. Instead, the Lib Dems increased their dominance by one seat.

Meanwhile, Labour lost its majorities in Great Yarmouth, because of 10 new Ukip councillors; Thurrock, due to five new Ukip councillors; and North East Lincolnshire, because of another five Ukip gains. However, two of these areas have Conservative MPs with very small majorities – Brandon Lewis in Great Yarmouth and Jackie Doyle-Price in Thurrock – suggesting the rise of Ukip in these areas actually poses just as much of a threat to the Conservatives at the general election. In Lincolnshire's Great Grimbsy, the Labour seat of retiring MP Austin Mitchell, Curtice predicted there could be a Ukip win at the general election.

Labour held on in Rotherham by a large majority, but Ukip became the official opposition after winning seven seats from Labour, two from the Conservatives, and holding the one seat it won in a byelection last year. It also scooped up votes from the disintegrating British National party, which had two councillors at its peak in 2008.

Rotherham council's deputy leader, Jahangir Akhtar, who was first elected in 2000, was one of those who lost his seat after being embroiled in Rotherham's child sex-grooming scandal. He was accused of covering up abuse by his cousin – a charge he has always denied. He stepped down for several months while police investigated the case and was reinstated late year when detectives decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

Dr Matthew Goodwin, a political expert at the University of Nottingham, said the results showed Ukip could damage Labour as much as the Conservatives.

He said Ukip grew up largely in the south-west and south-east, where it is strong in Essex and Kent, but it was now performing well in areas of the north, such as the Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The party's success outside London illustrated Britain's social divide between those at ease with a metropolitan, cosmopolitan society and those who felt left behind, Goodwin said.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason, Helen Pidd and Robert Booth, for The Guardian on Friday 23rd May 2014 18.20 Europe/London

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