Yesterday British voters went to the polls to vote for local government “council” candidates, and also to cast ballots for the European Parliament. We won’t know the European results until Sunday, but in the local elections the right-wing-populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) made big gains against all three major parties.

BBC’s Nick Robinson summed it up succinctly:

From the very first result – a council ward in safe Labour Sunderland – the tremors could be felt. UKIP secured 30% of the vote in an area where it hadn’t even run before.

It was soon clear that we were witnessing something very significant – the emergence of a fourth national political force capable of disrupting the hopes and plans of each of the established three parties.

The [UKIP leader Nigel] Farage factor has cut Tory support the most….

It has, though, also damaged Labour – challenging them in their northern heartlands and undermining Ed Miliband’s hopes of winning in key election battlegrounds in the Midlands.

The Liberal Democrats have watched in despair as the protest votes they used to harvest have gone elsewhere.

Prime Minister David Cameron will now have to deal with renewed right-wing demands that he dump the increasingly unpopular LibDems and go into a coalition with UKIP. And Labour’s Ed Milliband is facing heightened criticism he’s losing working-class voters and failing to take advantage of the government’s many problems.

These concerns will probably increase if, as appears likely, UKIP does very well in the European Parliament balloting.

The Daily Mail reported that if yesterday’s vote was projected into a national election, UKIP would replace the LibDems as the third largest party with 17% of the vote, and leave Labour just two points ahead of the Tories with a 31%-29% margin.

There have been right-wing extremist scares in British politics before. But this one is truly getting serious.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.