LONDON — The populist U.K. Independence Party is on course to make sweeping gains in local elections in Britain, according to early results on Friday, delivering a blow to its established rivals and confirming its role as an emerging political force.
The two parties that govern Britain in a coalition, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, suffered a battering as the first results were announced from Thursday’s voting. The opposition Labour Party made gains, but they appeared less substantial than its supporters had hoped. After results from 59 councils had been declared, Labour had gained 94 seats, and the U.K. Independence Party had gained 86 seats.
The center-right Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, lost 101 seats, and the centrist Liberal Democrats, whose popularity has fallen sharply since it entered the coalition with the Conservatives, lost 86.
Britons were also voting in elections for the European Parliament on Thursday, but those votes will not be counted until Sunday night, when the rest of the 28-nation bloc finishes voting.
The U.K. Independence Party has campaigned for controls on immigration and for a British exit from the European Union. It made a breakthrough last year when it captured about a fourth of the vote in the seats it contested in local elections, winning almost 140 seats.
The early signs of the party’s success in the local elections on Thursday are a further indication that populist parties across the European Union are growing in countries that have endured years of financial crisis and austerity.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which still has no members in the British Parliament, said it would put its stamp on local government in many areas of the country.The party is now “a serious player,” he told the BBC, adding that it would “throw the kitchen sink” at target seats in next year’s parliamentary elections.
As expected, the party’s appeal was weaker in London, where voters seemed more resistant to its message. But its gains elsewhere will cause anxiety for all three established parties just a year ahead of a general election.
In all, 4,216 seats in 161 local councils in England and 462 seats in 11 local councils in Northern Ireland were up for election. Mayors were also being elected in four boroughs in London, and in Watford.