The results of the UK local elections are still only trickling in and the results of the European elections won't be released until Sunday. But it's obvious who the real winner of the two elections has been already: the UK Independence Party. It's long been predicted that the party would top the poll for the elections to the European Parliament. And the results of the local council elections show that the UKIP vote most certainly came out in force yesterday.
It's worth noting that UKIP is unlikely to take control of any local councils this time around: it's rather that it has broken out of having only a handful of councillors spread around the country. It has been able to deny both Labour and the Conservatives overall control of a number of councils and reach near majorities on its own in some.
The importance of this is difficult to overstate. This is the first major breakthrough by a new political party in the UK (as opposed to one of the devolved nations) since the rise of the Labour Party at the beginning of the last century.
At this stage most councils still have not declared their results but here's a snapshot:
Turnout looks set to be about 36%. Most results in 161 English councils are still to come. Euro election results are due on Sunday. Eleven councils in Northern Ireland are also up for grabs. With 63 councils declared, Labour has gained 102 seats, UKIP has gained 89 seats, the Lib Dems have lost 99 and the Conservatives have lost 97.
That's an astonishing result for a party that is only just 20 years old. This, plus the expected overall win in the euro-elections positions the party well for next years' General Election. There's a problem for insurgent parties in the UK, which is that the Westminster elections are fought on a first past the post basis, in single member constituencies. This means that a party with widespread but shallow support (say, 10 or 20% of the entire electorate, but spread out) can gain a substantial percentage of the overall vote and yet no seats at all. A lower overall level of support that is concentrated in one constituency can get elected though, as the Green Party proved in Brighton.
However, that calculation rather changes when the insurgent party starts to reach 20-25% support. At that point many constituencies start to become three, or even four way marginals. And so that's the sort of level of national support that will be needed for the party to make a breakthrough at Westminster.
One other detail that's interesting about the current results. Support in London is very much lower than it is in other areas. Which isn't all that much of a surprise as there's a concentration of immigrants in London: not the group most likely to support UKIP.