LONDON (AP) — The U.K. Independence Party won a seat in the British Parliament for the first time on Friday, a significant breakthrough for the anti-immigration force and a protest vote against the country's mainstream parties.
The party also posted a strong — and unexpected — showing in another special election held in Heywood and Middleton in northern England.
"Something big is happening here. People want change," UKIP leader Nigel Farage told the BBC.
UKIP candidate Douglas Carswell won the special election in the eastern England constituency of Clacton-on-Sea with 21,113 votes. Conservative Giles Watling was second with 8,709 votes.
In the other race, Labour's Liz McInnes beat UKIP's candidate by only 617 votes.
Turnout in the Heywood and Middleton contest was only 36 percent. Low turnouts are one reason why by-elections often produce surprising results that aren't necessarily repeated in general elections.
The contest will nonetheless send a chill through the political establishment in Britain, as it showed UKIP is now appealing to Labour voters as well as to disaffected members of the Conservative Party.
"There won't be a shred of complacency from us as we reach out to all of those voters who didn't vote Labour and didn't vote at all," Labour leader Ed Miliband said.
UKIP, which wants to curb immigration and pull Britain out of the European Union, has attracted growing numbers of voters. It took the largest share of British votes in May elections for the European Parliament.
Thursday's special election in Clacton was triggered when Carswell, who represented the area as a Conservative, defected to UKIP in August.