Ukip’s Nigel Farage turned the sights of his “people’s army” towards Westminster yesterday as the established parties struggled to stem the fall-out from the European elections.
With Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg left battling for his survival in the wake of losing all but one MEP, a jubilant Mr Farage said he hoped to secure a “good number” of MPs next year.
Labour leader Ed Miliband was also under fresh pressure after his party scraped into second place behind Ukip nationally.
Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to blame “deep disillusionment” with the EU for Ukip’s victory, but dismissed calls for an electoral pact with the party.
After votes were counted in Britain’s 11 European constituencies, Ukip was dominant with 24 MEPs, including one in Wales and its first representative in Scotland.
Its 27.49% share of the national vote was up 10.99 points from the last Euro elections in 2009, when it secured 13 seats.
It was the first time for more than a century that a national vote had not been won by either the Conservatives or Labour, as voters turned away from mainstream parties throughout the continent.
Lib Dem MP John Pugh said yesterday that he wanted Business Secretary Vince Cable to take over as party leader, warning that voters’ unwillingness to listen to Mr Clegg was a fundamental cause of the “abysmal” showing.
Mr Cable later distanced himself from a leadership bid.
Mr Clegg insisted it had not “crossed his mind” to resign, but that he would if he thought it would help the party.
“If I thought any of our real dilemmas would be addressed by changing leadership, changing strategy, changing approaches, bailing out now, changing direction, then I wouldn’t hesitate advocating it. Absolutely not,” he said.
Mr Farage twisted the knife at a post-election rally in London, saying he was “extremely grateful” to Mr Clegg for challenging him to the TV debates, which some say gave Ukip momentum.
He also warned Mr Cameron that his next target was victory in the Newark by-election, and next year’s general election.
“Ukip, with the wind behind it, has got momentum,” he said.
“The plan short-term for us is very simple. The people’s army of Ukip now marches on Newark.
“We are going to do our damnedest to try to pull off an even more spectacular result. If we do that, I suspect Mr Cameron will also begin to feel some of the pressure.”