Labour scored comfortable victories in three byelections early on Friday morning, bringing in a hat-trick of new MPs for the party. Ukip also enjoyed a strong performance, coming second in two of the votes, and third in the other.
In Rotherham, which Labour held with 9,866 votes, Ukip had hoped for a late surge after a week of dream publicity. Not only had polls put its national support at an all-time high of 11% but the Eurosceptic party topped the news agenda after two of its local members claimed they had been told they were unsuitable foster parents for children of east European origin because of their political views.
Ukip came second in the town with 4,648 votes, and the BNP was third with 1,804. Respect took 1,778, and were followed by the Conservative party with 1,157. It was a particularly dismal night for the Liberal Democrats, who came eighth – behind the English Democrats – and lost their deposit. The turnout was 21,330 (33.63%), down by a quarter on 2010 levels.
Sarah Champion, the 43-year-old new Labour MP for Rotherham is chief executive of Bluebell Wood children's hospice in the constituency. She called on the coalition government to bring in policies that would get her constituents back to work.
Before the final results were confirmed in Rotherham, Nigel Farage, Ukip's leader, said: "It looks as though this will be our best byelection by a country mile. It's a big night for Ukip. I suspect we probably won't quite do enough to beat Labour but with this result here and another byelection up the road in Middlesbrough where I think we're also going to come second, this party is going places."
Clearly disappointed, Respect organiser Ron McKay said: "We had very little time to prepare and we didn't have the resources on the ground. But we've beaten the government parties. We also suffered from the fact that so many people cast postal votes - getting on for half those who voted - and we didn't get things up and running in time."
Labour held Middlesbrough with Andrew McDonald, its candidate, gaining 10,201 votes and the Ukip candidate Richard Elvin winning 1,990 with the Lib Dems' George Selmer on 1,672.
Labour won their third byelection of the night in Croydon North, where Steve Reed was declared the winner with 15,898. The Conservatives won 4,137 votes, and Ukip came third with 1,400.
The Labour party, still smarting from its defeat to George Galloway in the Bradford West byelection earlier this year, took no chances in its bid to keep hold of Rotherham following the resignation of Denis MacShane. Red rosette-clad supporters were bussed in from all over the country to get the vote out, with pretty much the whole Labour backbench being ordered up to the South Yorkshire town at some point during the two-week campaign.
John Healey, Labour MP for neighbouring Wentworth and Deane, said: "It has been a hard campaign, but we deserved to hold the seat. The real shock here is the terrible, terrible result for the two coalition parties. They didn't even bother campaigning – they've given up." The byelection was triggered after MacShane admitted wrongly claiming £7,500 in expenses. His vote rose in the last general election to 16,741 compared with 15,840 in 2005.
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