A leadership crisis faced Labour and the Conservatives as the parties today adjust to the full extent of Ukip’s election victory.
Ed Miliband and David Cameron were forced to the airwaves to defend their election tactics after Ukip won in the Clacton by-election and came within 617 votes in the previously safe Labour seat of Heywood and Middleton.
Mr Miliband bore the brunt of the pressure as party members called on him to “wake up” to the Ukip threat in the North.
The Conservatives meanwhile were said to be awaiting the result of the next defection by-election, Mark Reckless’ Rochester seat, after a general expectation that Ukip would comfortably win the Clacton seat.
Tory defector Douglas Carswell took almost 60% of the vote, with a slightly increased majority of 12,404, with Ukip coming second in Heywood.
The Conservatives yesterday repeated their claim that a Ukip vote would see Labour into Downing Street in 2015, but many on the left accused the Labour leadership of complacency over the threat posed by Nigel Farage.
Labour backbencher John Mann said the party had to act following the Heywood result.
The Bassetlaw MP said: “I back Ed Miliband. But, does Ed Miliband back me and the views of many Labour voters across the country who want to see our concerns addressed? It is not listening but action that we need: deeds not words. ‘I hear what you are saying’ is not good enough. We need to be bold if we are to gain the confidence of the electorate.
“I fear that the decimation of the Tory vote in two by-elections, and the consequential private and personal panic of scores of Tory MPs, will create too much comfort for Ed and his pals who run the Labour Party.”
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he stood by Mr Miliband, but added: “We could and should have done better.
“That said, bearing in mind that our share of the vote went up, albeit by one percentage point, that there was a swing in our favour against the Conservatives by 8% points, so as Ed Miliband has just said, we’re not complacent about this.
“This should have been a better night for us but it was nothing compared to the catastrophe for the Conservatives.”
Speaking on the steps of Heywood library with victorious Labour candidate Liz McInnes, Mr Miliband said the result showed the “scale of disillusionment” among voters.
He said Labour needed to demonstrate it could “listen and deliver” on jobs , housing and wages as well as addressing “specific concerns” about immigration - a key Ukip theme on the doorstep.
“These results show the fight that we face over the coming seven months” he said. “This is a fight against disillusionment and despair, this is a fight for the working people of Britain and this is a fight that I am determined to win.”
In Heywood and Middleton, Ms McInnes held the seat for Labour in the contest following former MP Jim Dobbin’s death.
On a turnout of just 36%, she won with 11,633 votes, a 40.9% share, defeating Ukip’s John Bickley on 11,016, a 38.7% share.
Mr Cameron, visiting a school in his Witney constituency, said the general election in May would be “the most important in a generation”.
“This speaks to a wider truth that if you vote Ukip, you are in danger of getting a Labour government with Ed Miliband as prime minister, Ed Balls as chancellor,” he said.
“You’ll get no action on immigration, no European referendum and, most importantly, you won’t get a continuation of the plan that’s delivering success for our economy and security for our people.
“That is the wider lesson of last night.”