The success of the UK Independence Party in the Eastleigh by-election highlights the division in the Conservative Party, a Horsham Liberal Democrat councillor said this week.
The Liberal Democrats held the seat, but UKIP stole the limelight as they came second above the Conservative Party.
With the West Sussex County Council elections just over two months away, leader of the Liberal Democrats at Horsham District Council David Holmes said UKIP has to be a ‘huge worry’ for the Conservative Party, which holds the majority of seats on the county council.
He said: “The Conservative Party was never united and the result makes this absolutely clear. Previous supporters stretch from the far right, indistinguishable from UKIP, to more liberal-minded voters.
“The party is seriously divided and if it moves further towards UKIP many will find that the Conservative Party is even less focused on meeting their needs both nationally and locally.”
Leader of the West Sussex County Council Liberal Democrat group Morwen Millson (Horsham Riverside) added: “Previous by-election results have been hailed as heralds of change in the political landscape, though they rarely are.
“My reading of the result of the Eastleigh by-election is that it means that UKIP has arrived as the receptacle of the protest vote; but this was to be expected.
“Some voters wanted to send a message that the Government cuts, necessary to reduce the national deficit, are hurting local people.
“In previous Parliamentary by-elections, like the last Eastleigh by-election, protest votes have gone to Liberal Democrat candidates.
“This time the Liberal Democrats are part of a coalition Government, so a Liberal Democrat vote was not a protest. Labour looked like a non-starter in Eastleigh, so the protest voters turned to UKIP.”
But UKIP co-ordinator for West Sussex John Wallace thinks the Eastleigh result could change British politics.
He said: “I don’t think British politics will ever be the same again. Not for us anyway.
“If we are just the recipients of the protest vote, we wouldn’t have done as well as we did in Eastleigh.
“We should be able to win some county seats. With the swing towards us being so strong it might well happen.”
David Hide, chairman of Horsham Labour Party, believes the Liberal Democrats should be worried too. He said: “(The Eastleigh result) mirrors what we experienced here in Horsham last November when the Lib Dems’ vote collapsed and Labour came second right across Sussex in the Police Commissioner elections.
“Building on our local election results in 2011 we anticipate being competitive across a number of seats, particularly where previously Lib Dems have stood in opposition to the Tories, a role in which they no longer have any credibility, as they continue to prop up an increasingly unpopular Tory-led Government.”