UKIP claims the battle for North East votes is a “two horse race” as a Labour stronghold was almost captured by Nigel Farage’s party.
Jonathan Arnott MEP accused Labour of taking the region for granted and vowed that his campaigners would fight to turn our coastal seats from red to purple.
Labour hit back saying UKIP has “nothing to offer the North East” - but acknowleged their party cannot ignore the threat.
And the region’s Conservative MP, Hexham’s Guy Opperman, predicted the next general election would be the “most important in a generation”.
Labour held the Greater Manchester seat of Heywood and Middleton with a paper thin majority of 617 (down from almost 6,000) on Thursday night, while second place UKIP celebrated a 17.6% swing.
Mr Arnott said the close-run result and a recent UKIP victory in the Westoe ward of South Tyneside Council showed that his party is hot on Ed Miliband’s heels.
He said: “UKIP are picking up Labour votes across the North with people realising that the Labour Party has taken their vote for granted for a number of decades.
“Contrary to what the Conservatives claim, a vote for UKIP doesn’t help Ed Miliband into number 10.
“In Clacton it was ‘vote UKIP, get UKIP’ and in Heywood it was ‘vote Tory, get Labour’.
“Across the region at the general election next May it is clear that we will see a two-horse race between Labour and UKIP.”
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said Labour must sit up and take notice.
He said: “UKIP has got nothing to offer the North East. But we need to recognise that because of austerity people are hurting and they are disenchanted with politics.
“We need to make sure that as well as get our Labour message across we make sure politics is relevant to people.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said UKIP was enjoying success because people blame a decline in living standards on immigration.
She said: “I think Labour cannot afford to be complacent at all.
“We will take on people’s issues in this General Election head on. We are responding to people’s concerns and we provide a clear and positive way forward on issues like zero hours contracts, the cost of living crisis and the NHS.”
Mr Opperman added: “The fact is a vote for UKIP puts Labour closer to winning the General Election and Ed Miliband closer to Number 10. And that would mean higher immigration, no in/out referendum on the EU, and no economic plan secure the North East’s future.
“The next general election will be very different from these by-elections. It will be the most important in a generation.
“It is a serious choice because so much is at stake.”