Ukip last night made its first major breakthrough in the North East with a European election win.
The party came second in the region’s EU poll, taking one of the three MEP seats up for grabs.
Labour comfortably took the first seat and third seat, meaning bad news for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats as the region signalled its dislike of the coalition less than 12 months before the next general election.
The Lib Dem vote collapsed from 103,644 in 2009 to just 31,605 last night.
The Conservative vote dropped by around 10,000 to 107,733, but under the European voting system the result was enough for Martin Callanan, leader of the Conservatives in Europe and a 15-year veteran on the parliament, to lose his seat.
The result is the first time a fourth party has ever broken through in the North East’s European elections, and comes after a strong Ukip showing in the local elections on Tyne and Wear last week.
Labour topped the Euro election poll with 221,988 votes and Ukip got 177,660.
Newly elected Labour MEP Judith Kirton-Darling said: “David Cameron’s European agenda is to repatriate workers’ rights. I have worked my whole life to help create those rights and I will defend them as an MEP. Our EU membership is a powerful tool for this region.”
Paul Brannen, who took the third place seat for Labour, said: “Be in no doubt this is a big result for Labour. We knocked out the leader of the Conservatives in Europe, we have finished off the Lib Dems.”
Jonathan Arnott, the Ukip candidate now heading for Brussels, said he believed Ukip would remain a political threat to Labour in the run up to the General Election in 2015.
Mr Arnott, a former maths teacher, used his election speech to hit out at what he described as political smears made by Labour against Ukip.
“We picked up in many cases lifelong Labour supporters and that shows what we can do in the North East,” the MEP said.
The party topped the poll in many Teesside counts.
He added that the party’s Euro success came after a good showing in the local elections, where Ukip came second in almost all Labour wards contested, and said the party could make a push for votes in 2015.
“We have shown we are the challenger to Labour in the North East. Yes, we can carry that into 2015, but only if we show people we do have the domestic policies they can back, such as no tax on a minimum wage or making criminal sentences count as the sentence handed out.
“The public will not vote for us in 2015 until we start telling them that message.” Asked about warnings of a Nissan job losses if the UK were to leave the EU, Mr Arnott said: “In the 1990s Nissan said they will leave if we do not join the Euro, well guess what, they built another plant.
“All they have said is they will re-evaluate their model.”
Retiring Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall said the party was paying the price of coalition Government, but resisted calls for change at the top.
“I think this is just what happens,” she said.
“We did well in the locals, this is disappointing but it is what happens to parties in power.”
Asked what’s next for the Conservatives, Mr Callanan said: “I think we should carry on as we were. European elections are not a test of the general election. Europe is not the big issue then and we have the right policies for 2015, including a promised referendum on EU membership.”
Ukip were the big spenders heading into the North East elections, with the party the only of the main four to spend money on billboard advertising in the region. Electoral Commission records also show Mr Arnott contributing more than £8,000 of his own funds to the campaign.
Turnout for the European elections was 31%, with Middlesbrough’s 24% the lowest and Gateshead’s 35% the highest.
As polls finally closed across Europe, Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps acknowledged his party would lose seats as results emerged.
Tory Europe Minister David Lidington paid tribute to ousted Tory MEP Martin Callanan, who was leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the European Parliament.
“You have a guy there who has fought really hard for British interests and I think he will be a loss to the North East and to the country,” he said.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander did not rule out the Liberal Democrats finishing fifth behind the Green Party – but said he expected to retain some MEPs.
“I do not know what is going to happen. We will have to see. There are regions where we will do better than in the North East,” he said.
Ukip’s Roger Helmer said the party had topped the poll in Newark, where he will fight a Westminster by-election next month.
He said: “Britain is sending a hugely powerful message to the political classes tonight and I think Newark will relish the opportunity of reinforcing that message on Thursday week.”