A BULLISH and beaming Nigel Farage quipped the "Ukip fox is in the Westminster henhouse" as the anti-EU party scored dramatic victories across English councils, sparking recriminations within all the main Westminster parties.
As four-party politics emerged south of the Border, eyes turned to tomorrow night's results in the European parliamentary elections, which could see Ukip take the highest number of votes and, for the first time, secure elected representation in Scotland with its first MEP.
This would add another twist to the multifaceted referendum battle and, while it would show growing support for Ukip north of the Border, it would be seen by many pro-UK campaigners as a political setback as it would give Alex Salmond and his colleagues another target to fire at in their attempt to win independence.
Further ahead, a double electoral triumph for Mr Farage, premised on Ukip's hostility towards Brussels and EU immigration, would confound conventional politics still further and make the 2015 General Election even more unpredictable than it already is.
Pictured raising a pint of beer to the TV cameras, the party leader said: "We will see you at Westminster next year."
While Ukip was by yesterday evening on course to secure more than 160 council seats, it won fewer than Labour, which gained about 300, and still did not control a single council in England. But Mr Farage, giving his strongest hint yet that he would stand next May in a Kent constituency, insisted: "There are areas of the country where now we have got an imprint in local government. Under the first-past-the-post system we are serious players. This party is going to break through into the Westminster Parliament next year."
He also made it clear that despite the charges of racism made against his party, Ukip would continue to campaign for controlled migration.
"Don't think the immigration issue is going to go away. The plight of the eurozone is such that immigration is likely to be an even bigger question at the time of the General Election than it was last Thursday," added the party leader.
Some Tories, fearful Ukip, which made gains in Conservative Essex, could deprive their party of a majority at the next General Election, urged an electoral pact. But David Cameron brushed this aside, saying: "We are the Conservative Party; we don't do pacts and deals. We are fighting all out for an all-out win at the next election." The Prime Minister insisted that, despite the fact the Tory-led Coalition was increasing jobs, it had to work harder to win over voters.
Yet the biggest backlash was suffered by Ed Miliband, who had to face growing criticism from some of his own MPs that he had not taken the Ukip threat in winning over traditional Labour voters seriously enough. While the party performed strongly in London and had other notable successes including Cambridge, it witnessed Ukip make advances in some of its traditional heartlands such as Rotherham.
Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, suggested Labour had woken up too late to the Ukip threat. But Mr Miliband dismissed criticism of his party's campaign and his personal performance, claiming discontent about the way the country was run had been building up for decades and, consequently, people were turning to Ukip.
The biggest proportionate setback was delivered to the Liberal Democrats, who lost more than 280 council seats, more than one-third, and relinquished control of councils in Kingston upon Thames and Portsmouth.
Leader Nick Clegg brushed aside talk of quitting and appeared to be bracing himself for a similarly bruising experience in the euro poll tomorrow night, saying: "I certainly accept there is a very strong anti-politics mood around, not only in our country but in many other parts of Europe as well. You will see that in European elections in the days to come."