A jubilant Nigel Farage has insisted Ukip will be “serious players” at the British general election after the party landed major blows on the Tories and Labour in local polls there.
Mr Farage predicted his party could hoover up 200 extra council seats by the end of the day – and said European election results due Monday could be even better.
Pointing to significant wins in Essex and areas such as Rotherham, he suggested the “Ukip fox is in the Westminster hen house”.
“There are areas of the country where now we have got an imprint in local government,” he said. “Under the first-past-the-post system we are serious players.”
The comments came after a disappointing night for Labour, where the party failed to secure control of councils in spots such as Thurrock, considered crucial for a general election victory, although results in London were more impressive.
Britain's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said the country appeared to have entered a period of “four-party politics”.
The Conservatives were set for heavy losses, with Education Secretary Michael Gove admitting voters had turned to Ukip to send a “very clear message”, and the Liberal Democrats also suffered.
With over a third of councils having declared, Ukip had gained nearly a hundred seats - already exceeding expectations of around 80 wins.
They included 11 in Basildon to ensure it went from Tory to no overall control, and five in Thurrock to rob Labour of overall control.
In the north of England, Ukip showed it could pose a threat in the traditional strongholds of Ed Miliband’s party, taking 10 of the 21 council seats up for election in Rotherham.
So far Labour has boosted its councillor numbers by around 70, the Tories have lost some 110 and the Lib Dems more than 60.
Mr Farage said he believed many people would have stuck by long-standing council candidates representing the three main parties, but voted Ukip in European elections.
“Looking at the average vote share across the country and without wanting to count any chickens before they are hatched, it looks pretty good,” he added.
Mr Gove told Good Morning Britain: “We know that a number of people have voted for the United Kingdom Independence Party in order to send a very clear message.
“They want to make sure that the Government delivers on the policies of controlling immigration, making sure that we reform our welfare state, making sure that we get a proper referendum in Europe and the instructions from the electorate are loud and clear.
“We appreciate and understand why people have voted Ukip, and in government we will make sure that we deliver on the priorities that people have clearly set out.”
Asked if he would congratulate Ukip candidates on their success, he replied: “Yes, I would like to congratulate all of those candidates who won and wish them well when they serve the public and I would like to commiserate with those candidates who lost.”
David Cameron was facing renewed calls from Tory backbenchers to work with Ukip in 2015 to ensure a referendum on Europe.
Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC: “In a first-past-the-post system, if they don’t get those votes into one pot, then both those sides end up losing.”
Mr Miliband also came in for heavy criticism from some of his MPs, with Graham Stringer condemning problems with “both the presentation of our policies and the organisation of the campaign”.
Former minister David Lammy said the party should have done better in places such as Swindon, conceding that voters were “swallowing” Ukip’s message on immigration and Europe.
But Mr Alexander insisted Labour could win the general election based on the results coming in overnight from key battleground seats. The party has seized control in Hammersmith and Fulham, previously a flagship Tory authority, and is expecting positive results in Merton and Croydon.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We are very far from complacent. We recognise the alienation and the anger that has found expression in a lot of people voting for Ukip last night but we still believe that we are well placed if we do the right things and we take the right steps in the coming 12 months to win that general election.”
Tory backbencher and leading eurosceptic John Baron has called on the Government to learn from its mistakes in the way it tackles Ukip and warned against complacency on the EU.
He spoke following a poor set of election results for the Conservatives in south Essex including the loss of Basildon Council due to a surge in support for Nigel Farage’s party.
The Basildon and Billericay MP said: “Whilst accepting that Ukip is in part a protest vote, the political establishment has been too complacent over the EU. It must now heed the message from these elections.
“Number 10 must learn from past mistakes. First it tried to ignore, and then insult, Ukip. It then took our back bench campaigns to get a referendum, and then support for legislation.”
He also said mistakes were still being made and urged Labour and the Liberal Democrats to throw their support behind a referendum.
“We have immigration targets, yet cannot control the major EU component. We also need to make clearer that there will be no deal with Ukip,” he added.
“Labour and the Liberals need to wake up and support our commitment to an EU referendum. They have failed to deliver on past promises. Voters want their say, regardless of their views on EU membership.”