Britain’s anti-EU and anti-immigration UK Independence Party surged in local council elections according to results announced Friday, at the expense of the three main parties including Prime Minister David Cameron’s.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said party would now be “serious players” in European parliament elections, which were also held in Britain on Thursday alongside the council polls in England and Northern Ireland, and in the May 2015 general election.
Despite his party having no seats in his national parliament, the beer-swilling, chain-smoking Farage has led UKIP from the margins to claim a major place in Britain’s national debate on its place in the European Union.
“The UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house,” Farage said on Friday as the first results came through.
In results from 61 out of 161 councils in England available at 08:00 GMT, UKIP had gained 89 council seats, having previously held just one, while the main opposition Labour party led by Ed Miliband also did well, gaining 102 seats.
Cameron’s Conservatives lost 97 seats while the Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost 99.
Turnout was relatively weak at 36 percent, according to initial estimates.
UKIP is hoping to dramatically increase its tally of nine members of the European parliament when results are announced across the EU on Sunday night.
Unlike other far-right (and far-left) parties expected to make gains across the EU, Farage has said he will not form an alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front, citing the French party’s record of “anti-Semitism and general prejudice.”
Farage’s party has shrugged off accusations of racism to strike a chord with a British electorate that widely views the EU as a meddlesome bureaucracy and fears that immigration from the 28-nation bloc is threatening jobs.
UKIP has also seen its popularity and profile surge as Britons grow disaffected with the main political parties after several years of austerity. But it has dumped several election candidates for offensive or racist comments, including one who said black comedian Lenny Henry should move to a “black country” and another who called Islam “evil.”
Friday’s results are a far cry from the 2010 British general election when Farage, a former commodities trader, was principally famous because he was injured in the crash of a plane that was towing one of the party’s election banners.
Cameron has promised an in-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in late 2017 largely to see off the perceived threat of UKIP on the right.
JTA contributed to this report.