LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives risk losing a second British parliamentary seat to the anti-EU UKIP party on Thursday, foreshadowing a possible political upheaval in next year’s national election.
With distrust of mainstream parties and anxiety about immigration rising among voters across much of the country, four opinion polls have suggested UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) will win Thursday’s by-election in the southeast English constituency of Rochester and Strood.
Thursday’s vote was called when the constituency’s Conservative member of parliament Mark Reckless resigned after defecting to UKIP, which favours an immediate British withdrawal from the European Union and sharply lower immigration.
Victory for Reckless, who is seeking to regain his seat for UKIP, would deepen fears among European partners of a possible British exit from the EU. It would also deal a serious blow to Cameron who ordered his party to mobilise all its resources to hold Rochester, visiting the area five times before the ballot.
Final results of the vote, which follows a by-election last month when another Conservative defector won UKIP’s first elected seat in parliament, are expected around 0300 GMT on Friday morning.
Success for UKIP would also deepen Conservative fears of a split right-wing vote in the election to the Westminster parliament in May 2015, making it harder for Cameron to hold onto power. This could stoke disquiet among Conservative lawmakers about his leadership, some of whom might also be tempted to defect.
“If I do win there will be a significant change in people’s assumptions about UKIP,” Reckless told Reuters in an interview.
“People will realise that we’re credible and a party that is likely to win many more seats in Westminster next year.”
Reckless defected in September, saying said he had lost faith in Cameron’s promise to wring serious reform from the EU if a Conservative government is re-elected.