Nigel Farage: UKIP to be serious players at general election
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party will be "serious players" at the 2015 general election after it made gains in council polls across England.
Mr Farage said the "UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house" after it gained more than 150 council seats.
The BBC's projected national share of the vote suggests UKIP would have scored 17% in a Britain-wide election.
Labour would have got 31% of the vote, ahead of Conservatives on 29% with the Liberal Democrats on 13%.
UKIP's projected national share figure is lower than the 23% it got in council elections last year and despite its gains, UKIP does not yet control any local authorities.
Elections expert Professor John Curtice said UKIP's lower vote share this year reflected its weak performance in London but remained "remarkably good".
Labour would be "disappointed" to be only two points ahead of the Conservatives, he added, a lead down from 4% last year and 7% in 2012.
The Conservatives could be pleased with an increase from 25% share last year, but remained down on the 31% of 2012, Prof Curtice said, adding that the Lib Dems were showing little sign of recovery, with their share down 1% on last year's record low.
- With 157 of 161 councils declared, Labour has gained 292 seats, UKIP has gained 155 seats, the Lib Dems have lost 284 and the Conservatives have lost 201
- Seven Conservative councils in the south of England have gone to no overall control, some following UKIP gains.
- Labour has gained Hammersmith and Fulham, Croydon, Harrow and Amber Valley from the Conservatives, and the Conservatives have gained Kingston upon Thames from the Lib Dems.
- Essex has voted strongly for UKIP - and the party has also increased its share of the vote in the north.
- But it has fared worse in London, losing four councillors in Hounslow
- The Lib Dems lost all their remaining nine seats on Manchester Council
- Turnout looks set to be about 36%
- You can follow full coverage with all the latest updates at bbc.co.uk/vote2014.
The surge in support for UKIP has sent shockwaves through the main parties at Westminster, with just a year to go before the next general election.
Mr Farage, whose party only had two councillors when these seats were contested in 2010, said: "There are areas of the country where we have now got an imprint in local government. Under the first-past-the-post system we are serious players."
Prime Minister David Cameron sought to quell speculation of a possible Conservative-UKIP alliance, saying that his party could achieve an overall majority in 2015 by itself.
"We are the Conservative Party. We don't do pacts and deals. We'll be fighting all out for a win at the next election," he said.
He hailed his party's successes in Birmingham, Swindon and Tamworth, but conceded: "We did lose some councillors and some good councils - that does happen when you're running the government. I'm sorry for those who have lost their seats."
Senior Labour figures acknowledged the party needed to do more to convince people they understood their concerns.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "I think what we heard last night was a deep sense of discontent with the way the country's run and a deep desire for change.
"Across the country you've seen people voting for Labour to make that change happen: from Croydon, to Hastings, to Cambridge.
"You also saw some people turning to UKIP - and I am determined that over the next year we persuade them that we can change their lives for the better."
But Labour backbencher Graham Stringer - a longstanding critic of Mr Miliband - launched an attack on the party's campaign calling it "unforgivably unprofessional".
He told the BBC: "We have not done as well as we should have done in both the presentation of our policies and the organisation of the campaign.
Labour's shadow foreign secretary and election strategist Douglas Alexander dismissed the criticism, arguing that the party was making good progress in "key battleground marginal seats".
Some Conservative backbenchers have called for an electoral pact with UKIP going into the general election, with Jacob Rees-Mogg warning UKIP could split the "small c conservative vote" and let Labour in.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps rejected a formal deal between the two parties, saying there was "no question of a pact per se".
The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said UKIP had emerged as a "fourth national political force capable of disrupting the hopes and plans of each of the established three parties".
Although they did not win any councils, he added, UKIP had "completed the move from party of protest competitive only in European elections to one that is wounding the big three up and down the country".
The Lib Dems endured another bad time at the polls, although there were signs of them holding on in areas where they have MPs, such as Sutton, Eastleigh, and Cheltenham.
But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said all of the "mainstream" parties had had a mixed night as a result of the "very strong anti-politics mood".
"Where we can work really hard and tell our side of the story, we can win," he said.
But it was "never easy to see dedicated hard-working Lib Dem councillors losing ground", Mr Clegg added.
The Green Party, which is hoping to double its tally of MEPs to four in the European elections, performed moderately well in the local elections with an average 9% share of the vote in wards where it stood, adding 17 councillors.
Mayoral elections took place in four London boroughs and Watford, with Labour winning contests in Hackney and Lewisham.
In Northern Ireland, counting is taking place in 11 new "super districts" councils, with 462 seats up for grabs. All results should be known by Saturday evening but the DUP and Sinn Féin are expected to take most of the seats.
There were no local elections in either Scotland or Wales - apart from a by-election in the Hawick and Denholm ward of Scottish Borders Council.