Labour's North East heartland will next week begin assessing a Ukip wake up call after a ballot box scare.
The UK Independence Party failed to break through in any of the region’s the local elections, but managed to show it can take votes off the Labour Party even in the North East.
With the European count due to take place tomorrow night, Ukip’s local results suggest the party will have an MEP by Monday morning.
The elections are the last national poll before the 2015 General Election and come after Ukip leader Nigel Farage told an audience at the Sage in Gateshead that he was determined to start taking Labour Party votes.
The party made no election gains in the five Tyne and Wear councils, but came second in the vast majority of seats contested, often while standing in seats not previously challenged by Ukip.
For Labour there were only minor gains in Newcastle, South Tyneside and North Tyneside. In Gateshead the party barely shifted, while in Sunderland Labour lost two seats, including one to a Conservative.
The Tories failed to make a breakthrough in many part of the region. The party’s hopes had rested in North Tyneside, but Labour increased its number of councillors by two despite a challenge by former elected mayor Linda Arkley.
For the Liberal Democrats the election can be seen as something of a success. While there was no outright election victory, the party appears to have stopped its losses, defending most of its seats in the North East.
Last night Labour leaders said they must face up to the challenge from UKIP in the north - and win back working class voters by promising a crackdown on immigration.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said his party must respond to the threat from the maverick party in Labour’s traditional heartlands.
It follows a surge in support for UKIP with the party giving Labour a shock in Sunderland, where it came second in 16 wards, although it failed to gain any seats.
Mr Balls suggested Labour should move on to Ukip’s territory and take tougher approach to immigration and the EU - and attack the Government for failing to keep immigration down.
Asked for his response to Ukip’s success in Sunderland and the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, where the party won ten seats, Mr Balls said: “We are actually doing better than people are expecting us to do across the southern seats but there is now a challenge for Labour in the north, especially in the areas where we are clearly the majority party or in areas where you have tight Tory/Labour fights, where the Tories have gone to Ukip.
“So we have to understand that challenge. People want to know we will have tough controls on immigration, that you’re not going to be able to come here to work in our country and send benefits back to families at home, that we’re going to make sure we tackle zero hours contracts and enforce the minimum wage.”
Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns said: “I have a funny feeling though that there has been a drift from the Lib Dems towards us, and a drift from us to Ukip.
“And from my perspective, that’s people telling us that it doesn’t matter which policy basket is offered to them, they are not willing any more to be offered crumbs off the table.”
It was a day that promised much for UKIP with rumours of winning a seat in Woolsington early on.
The party did come second in a number of seats, registering particularly highly in Walkergate with 843 votes and Benwell and Scotswood with 823, however outright victory eluded it.
In all 27 seats were up for grabs at Newcastle City Council, 16 previously held by Labour and 11 by the Lib Dems.
At the end of the count it was almost a case of “as you were” with Labour winning 17, the Lib Dems nine and Independent candidate Bill Corbett landing a spectacular success in Westerhope, taking the seat from Labour.
In some wards the Lib Dem vote collapsed but overall party leaders were visibly relieved that its support held up well compared to other parts of the country.
However its Chief Whip Tom Woodwark was the major casualty of the day when he lost out to Labour in South Jesmond.
Overall Labour won 45% of the vote, the Lib Dems 21.7%, UKIP 13.5% and the Tories 9.9%.
Labour mayor Bob Heron provided the biggest shock in Wearside, losing his seat to an Independent by just 75 votes.
Visibly upset to be ousted in the Copt Hill ward by Anthony Allen, the party stalwart said: “I expected it to be close but I didn’t expect to lose.”
Despite fears UKIP could woo working class parts of Sunderland, Labour maintained its grip and the anti-European party failed to capture a single seat. It did, however, win a remarkable 30% chunk of the overall vote from rival parties.
Tory stalwart Shirley Leadbitter took Labour’s Steven Bonallie St Peter’s seat in the sole blue gain.
Of the 25, Labour has 21 seats, the Conservatives 3 and Independent 1.
The Lib Dem vote collapsed, recording less than 100 votes in some wards.
North Tyneside’s former elected mayor Linda Arkley failed to make a civic comeback after losing in the Tynemouth ward to Labour’s Sarah Day.
The seat was one of the most hotly contested and the Conservative candidate missed out on being elected by just 37 votes.
Current mayor Norma Redfearn said she was “overjoyed” Labour had managed to retain overall control of the council as well as gaining two additional seats in Wallsend and Chirton.
She said Labour had weathered many a protest vote in the past and were not worried about UKIP coming second in nine wards.
Their surge was down to the current Government’s record on job creation and the bedroom tax, she added. UKIP gained a 20% share of the vote overall although failed to win a seat.
Party member Marianne Follin, who also stood in Tynemouth, said: “It’s been said we are the fourth political party and we’ve proved that now.”
The council is now made up of 44 Labour councillors, 12 Conservative and 4 Lib Dems.
Labour remained in control of Gateshead Council despite a strong UKIP showing.
Leader of the council, Mick Henry, thanked the public for their support to his party despite the Government cuts his borough currently faces.
He said: “Nothing has changed. Considering that we are suffering a 37% cut in the budget and we have had to take actions as a council, I am pleased that the Gateshead public have shown support for us in the circumstances.”
When asked about the number of votes secured by UKIP, Mr
Henry said: “Next year will be different.
“The European elections have helped them on this occasion and we are hoping it will be different next year.
“It’s the Liberal Democrats we need to worry about, and the actions of the Government.”
Labour retained control of South Tyneside Council as it gained one seat but lost another.
The party held 16 of the 18 contested seats and gained Fellgate and Hedworth from Ukip with a victory from Geraldine Kilgour.
Labour’s Norman Dick won the seat in the West Park ward which has been vacant since the death of Labour veteran Coun Bob Watters in January.
Labour’s one loss came in the Bede ward, which went to Lee Hughes, the Independent - Putting People First candidate.
The new political make-up of the council sees Labour having 49 seats, Independent one, Independent - Putting People First two, Conservative one and Ukip one.
Though it didn’t make any gains on the night, Ukip did see a surge in votes and came second in 14 of the 18 seats contested.