‘ALL bets are off’ for the general election next year after Ukip gained its second directly-elected MP.
The reaction from Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage to today’s victory comes as the party is poised to have candidates standing across the Portsmouth area next May.
Mark Reckless, who defected from the Tories to spark the showdown with his former party, won the Rochester and Strood by-election. by a majority of 2,920.
Portsmouth has already been identified as a target seat for Ukip and some constituencies are looking more open than ever before, with Tory stalwart David Willetts standing down from his Havant seat.
John Perry, Ukip’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Havant, who is a retired engineer and accountant from Hayling Island, told The News: ‘I think we have a great opportunity in Havant.
‘Not just in Havant but also the south coast from Eastleigh and further west through to Havant.
‘There are a number of opportunities for us here.
‘I don’t think any Conservative is now safe, even if the majority in the last general election was 10,000 or more (in Havant).
‘I have a quiet sense of optimism. I’m excited.’
He said he was ‘delighted’ about the win at Rochester.
He said Ukip had taken votes from each of the three main political parties.
He added: ‘Ukip are not the real winners.
‘It’s the people who are the real winners.
‘Rochester is a fairly representative constituency to the whole of Britain.
‘It’s not too dissimilar from Havant.’
Mr Farage said the ‘massive, massive’ win in what he called a ‘David v Goliath battle’ meant ‘all bets are off for 2015’.
It comes just weeks after another defector Douglas Carswell romped home for Ukip in an identical contest in Clacton, Essex.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Reckless said: ‘If we can win here, we can win across the country. If you vote Ukip, you get Ukip.’
And he told voters: ‘You remain my boss, don’t let me forget it.’
Mr Farage told reporters: ‘(David Cameron) put his own personal reputation on the line to fight this by-election and lost, so there you go.’
Councillor Steve Hastings, Portsmouth’s deputy Ukip group leader, told The News: ‘I think this particular result is game-changing.
‘I think we could get a result here.
‘We don’t have a candidate for Portsmouth South, we do for Portsmouth North, and the hustings is coming up on December 12.
‘We will be gunning for it big-time in Portsmouth now.
‘For once people might begin to realise if they vote Ukip, they will get Ukip.’
George Hollingbery, Tory MP for Meon Valley, told The News: ‘I think there are a whole slew of people who really feel they are not being listened to and are being left behind by the three main political parties.’
But he stressed it was a by-election and many people may have voted Ukip as a protest.
He pointed towards the Conservatives creating a strong economic recovery and bringing more jobs to the Portsmouth area.
But he added: ‘I think any politician who does not take this seriously and looks to their electorate to see what they are doing is a fool.
‘We all need to understand that this group exist in all constituencies across the country.
‘We need to make an effort to talk to these people and address the issues which they are worrying about most.’
The result is a blow for David Cameron, who personally spearheaded the effort to put a brake on Ukip’s recent surge with less than six months to go until the general election.
But the smaller-than-forecast margin of defeat may calm nerves that more eurosceptic backbenchers will be tempted to jump ship and join Nigel Farage’s party.
Labour – which suffered a polling-day embarrassment with the resignation of shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry over what was called a ‘snobbish’ tweet about an English flag-draped house in the constituency – came third.
And the Liberal Democrats continued a humiliating string of by-election performances, finishing fifth with just 349 votes and losing another deposit.
A total of 40,113 votes were cast – a turnout of 50.67 per cent.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said he was ‘disappointed with the result’ and accepted that it would ‘make it harder to do the things we want to do in terms of controlling immigration, carrying on with this economic recovery’.
But he said the narrower-than-predicted margin of victory for Ukip meant Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst was well placed to wrest back the seat on May 7.
He said: ‘Over the course of this campaign the gap has closed. They have ended up with about a 7 per cent lead for Mark Reckless.
‘They were predicting something over twice that level. So 2,900 is not a big majority now to try to win back in 170 days time.
‘I’m very sorry that Kelly has not been elected but with 2,900 votes in it, it certainly puts her in strong contention for the general election and we will be fighting very hard to win this back.’
Mr Reckless said his victory had proved that Ukip could win nationwide.