The UK Independence Party (UKIP) stormed the European elections on Sunday night, gaining two seats in the South East to take their regional tally to four.
The Greens and Labour maintained their one seat each, while the Conservatives lost one member to see their total fall to three.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats lost one seat – leaving Catherine Bearder as the party’s only MEP in the country.
Describing Sunday night’s European Election results as “historic”, new UKIP MEP for the South East Ray Finch said he was confident that next year would see a party member in Westminster.
He said: “I think the result last night showed the Liberal Democrats are finished as a party.
“We are the only party left that is truly national. The Tories have no support in the north and Labour has little support in the south. We are the opposition now.
Campaigning “I can absolutely see UKIP winning a seat in Parliament for Sussex next year.
“In fact I think we will win a significant number of seats at next year’s general election.”
European hopefuls gathered at Southampton’s Civic Centre on Sunday night for the results after months of campaigning.
At the last vote in 2009, UKIP won just two of the ten seats in the South East, while the Conservatives led with four. The Liberal Democrats had two seats five years ago with one each for the Greens and Labour.
This time round UKIP attracted 751,439 votes in the South East, which equates to 32.14% overall – a 13.2 percentage point increase on five years ago.
The Conservatives came second with 723,571 votes, 30.95% overall and 3.84 percentage points down on 2009.
Labour was next with 342,775, 14.66% of the vote and a 6.41 percentage point increase, with the Greens getting 211,706 votes, 9.05% of the total at a 2.57 percentage point drop.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, got just 187,876 votes, 8.04% of the total and a 6.11 percentage points drop on 2009.
Despite a fall in votes from 2009, Green MEP Keith Taylor kept his seat.
Speaking yesterday while in the queue to get on the Eurostar, he said: “I’m delighted but UKIP should be a concern for us all.
“The support they have sends a message that people are not happy with Europe. What we must now do is understand what their concerns are and see what we can do to allay their fears.
“We want to be part of Europe but we must make sure it is more democratic and more accountable.
“The way to do that is by being part of it, not throwing all your toys out of the pram.”
Speaking on the challenges ahead, he said he would focus on opposing austerity measures, as well as tackling environmental issues such as air quality, fracking and animal welfare.
He added: “We want to be part of Europe. It is going to be difficult with the increase in right wing parties across Europe but we are not going anywhere. We will stick at it and work hard for a better future for the South East.”
The big losers nationally were the Liberal Democrats, with the party losing ten seats across the UK overnight.
Catherine Bearder, for the South East, is now the party’s only MEP in the country.
Speaking to The Argus yesterday, she said the party’s fortunes had been the result of a number of factors.
She said: “Clearly the anti-EU vote was uppermost and as a pro-EU party that affected us badly.
“We are also now in power in Westminster and those in power always get a kicking. As a junior member of the coalition it was something of a double-kicking. It’s disappointing.”
Speaking about the way forward for the party, she said: “If I had an answer I would be happy to give it to you. We need to really look long and hard at how we campaign and how we get our message across and why we didn’t engage with the voter this time.
Environment “I will continue with the work I have started with regards human trafficking and the environment. I will also be working hard looking at job creation.”
Labour maintained their one seat in the South East. However, there was disappointment at them not gaining another despite seeing a 6.41% point increase in votes from 2009.
New Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds said she was “honoured” to have been elected.
She said: “I’m delighted and will work hard for the people of the South East. My number one priority in Europe is to oppose the austerity measures.
“I will also be focusing on promoting jobs and growth, particu larly for young people. I don’t think Britain is getting as much as it could out of the EU and I will be making sure young people in the region get all the help they can.”
Labour will also be encouraged by the breakdown of votes in Brighton and Hove, with the party topping the city ballot with 20,414.
Second were the Greens with 18,586, third the Conservatives with 15,626, fourth UKIP with 14,205 then the Liberal Democrats with 4,025.
Ms Dodds MEP said the breakdown was “encouraging”, with the party looking to win back seats in Westminster and the council next May.
She added: “It is difficult to predict but the signs are certainly positive. There is still a long way to go.”
Speaking about his plans as a new MEP, Mr Finch said the objective was “to get the UK out of there”.
He said: “The people of this country have been treated as mushrooms with regards to the EU. I mean, how often do you see media coverage of a European debate?
“We are going to go there, find out what they are doing and come back and tell people.
“We will hold public meetings and make sure the people of this country know what is really happening. We will then be calling for a referendum to get us out of there.”
ARGUS COMMENT PIECE
By Michael Davies, local government reporter
Nigel Farage promised the UK establishment he would deliver a political earthquake at this year’s local and European elections.
Late on Sunday night he made good on that promise after UKIP beat the mainstream parties to first place in the EU voting.
It had been largely predicted the anti-EU party would do well at this election, with all the polls showing they were going to push Labour and the Tories all the way.
But in a result that will have ramifications for mainstream politics in Britain for years, and certainly in the run up to the general election next year, UKIP proudly declared it was the party standing up for the millions of disenfranchised former and current voters who were tired of the establishment.
Standing at the podium, Nigel Farage cut a determined figure as he announced his party had made history in the most significant election result for 100 years.
In the immediate aftermath of the result all the leaders of the main parties have been asked how it happened.
Nick Clegg is now facing a genuine crisis in his leadership, Ed Miliband is facing questions as to how he allowed UKIP to become the alternative vote and David Cameron is being pressured to enter into a political pact with UKIP after the Conservatives finished third for the first time in a major election.
But the aftershocks of Farage’s earthquake have failed to reach Brighton and Hove, with UKIP finishing a distant fourth.
Mr Farage admitted last on Sunday that every party had weak areas and Brighton’s university students may have played a role in making sure his party didn’t make gains.
And it will be Labour who is celebrating the most in Brighton and Hove after the EU vote after finishing first in the city ahead of the Green Party less than a year before the general and local elections next year.
Nigel Farage (UKIP)
Janice Atkinson (UKIP)
Diane James (UKIP)
Ray Finch (UKIP)
Anneliese Dodds (Labour)
Keith Taylor (Green)
Catherine Bearder (Liberal Democrat)
Daniel Hannan (Conservative)
Nirj Deva (Conservative)
Richard Ashworth (Conservative)