UKIP candidate Jane Collins met voters outside polling stations in Rotherham yesterday as political pundits predicted a strong showing for her party in the town’s by-election.
Labour were last night hoping to retain three Commons seats at by-elections held yesterday but there were signs of a strong showing for candidates from smaller parties.
As well as heading to the polls in Rotherham, voters were also casting ballots in Croydon North and Middlesbrough following the deaths of MPs Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell.
The Rotherham seat was vacated by Denis MacShane earlier this month when he resigned after being condemned for abusing parliamentary expenses.
Labour were odds-on favourites with bookmakers to keep hold of all three seats– won with healthy majorities in 2010 – with Middlesbrough seen as a near-certainty. But there was close attention on whether the Respect party could pull off a repeat of George Galloway’s shock April victory in Bradford West in either of the others.
Mr Galloway overturned a 5,000 Labour majority – smaller than any being defended by Labour yesterday – to storm home with a 10,000-vote lead.
Another threat is posed by Ukip – the UK Independence Party – which pushed the Liberal Democrats into third place in the Corby by-election held a fortnight ago.
Its profile has been significantly boosted in Rotherham by the storm over the removal by the Labour-run council of foster children from a couple because of their Ukip membership.
Voting figures will also be of interest following this month’s poor turnout at the first police commissioner elections. The fact that only around one in seven made it to polling stations was blamed partly on the time of the year.
The polls come only two weeks after the lowest post-war Commons election turnout of 18.2 per cent at the Manchester Central by-election.
Despite the dark evenings and colder, wetter weather, turnout in the by-election in Corby – on the same day as the commissioner elections – was around 45 per cent.