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While Labour held the seat with a bigger majority, Ukip, which wants the UK to withdraw from Europe and to reduce immigration and benefit spending, increased its vote in Wythenshawe and Sale East from 3.4 per cent in 2010 to 18 per cent. It hopes to beat the Conservatives nationally in the European elections in May.
However, a turnout of 28.2 per cent for the by-election, a sign of widespread apathy, will worry politicians from established parties as much as Ukip’s surge.
The Lib Dems, who have seen some leftwing voters desert the party because of the coalition, received 4.9 per cent of the vote, down from 22.3 per cent in 2010, and lost its deposit. Labour won 55 per cent of the vote, up from 44 per cent last time, though a total of 13,268 was short of the 18,000 previously on a higher turnout. The Conservatives garnered 14.5 per cent.
Wythenshawe, south of Manchester, is home to one of Europe’s largest council estates where people have been hit hard by stagnating wages and reduced welfare benefits.
“Manchester has rejected [Prime Minister] David Cameron today and the rest of Britain will reject him tomorrow,” said Mike Kane, the winning Labour candidate. “We’ve had enough of his utterly out-of-touch government.”
Ukip has no MPs at Westminster in spite of its growing support.
Nigel Farage, the party’s ebullient leader, hailed the by-election result, which showed Ukip improving on its fifth place when the seat was last contested, and said that the party was becoming the alternative to Labour in the northwest.
However, at the count he attacked the short campaign time and heavy use of postal votes, cast early, which gave the party little time to convince people to change their minds.
“I’ve been on [drinking] benders longer than this election campaign,” he said.
Ukip has been targeting disaffected Labour voters in industrial areas in northern England. Its best result was at South Shields last year, when it won 24.2 per cent of the vote after Labour’s David Miliband, who was defeated by his brother Ed in the party’s 2010 leadership contest, resigned. Its best by-election result was 27.8 per cent of the vote at Liberal Democrat-held Eastleigh in Hampshire in 2013.
Mr Farage this week attacked the “dirty” tactics of Labour and the extreme right British National party during the by-election campaign.
He said the party’s local offices had been vandalised with graffiti that branded Ukip “Nazis”, and a generator and bundles of leaflets were stolen. The parties denied any involvement.
Since 2011 Ukip has fought 14 by-elections and averaged 10.5 per cent of the vote.
Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham, said the Wythenshawe and Sale East result was not significant as it was merely a by-election, and not a nationwide poll.