Wythenshawe by-election: Ukip piles the pressure on Cameron
Risk of Ukip splitting Tory vote in 2015 increases: what's the message for the four party leaders?
DAVID CAMERON tried to calm Tory nerves this morning after his party was beaten by Ukip into a humiliating third place in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in Manchester.
Speaking on ITV’s Daybreak from Blackpool on a tour of storm-hit areas in the North West, Cameron sought to deny the result was the major breakthrough that Ukip leader Nigel Farage had promised.
Mike Kane retained the seat for Labour with 13,261 votes, with Ukip's John Bickley gaining 4,301 votes - a rise of 14.5 per cent in Ukip’s share of the vote in the constituency since the 2010 general election. But Kane actually increased Labour’s majority from 7,575 to 8,960.
Tory candidate Rev David Critchlow came third with 3,479 votes, while the Lib Dems came a miserable fourth with 1,176 votes - losing their deposit in a by-election for the eighth time in this parliament. Turnout was down to 28 per cent from 50 per cent at the 2010 general election.
The Prime Minister said: "I don't think this is a particularly surprising result in Labour holding this seat, and by-elections are an opportunity when people send messages and make protests and all the rest of it and obviously I listen to those very carefully. But I don't think it was the kind of breakthrough that people were talking about."
Even so, the surge in support for Farage’s party means Ukip are on track to defeat the Tories at the European elections in May – and to split the Conservative vote at the 2015 general election, making a Miliband victory more likely.
As they pick the bones of the by-election, here's what the four party leaders need to think about:
The message for David Cameron:
The Tory vote crashed by 11.03 per cent while Labour’s share of the vote rose by 11.21 per cent. Despite the PM’s assurances this morning, it is clear that Farage and Ukip could fatally split the Tory vote at next year's general election unless they can reach a pact. Cameron has already offered disgruntled Tories tougher immigration laws and an EU referendum – all he has left is the economy to win them back, once the floods have receded. The Chancellor had better make the Budget in March an absolute cracker.
The message for Ed Miliband:
The Labour leader can rest easy with this result. Local Labour MPs were running round like headless chickens in the run-up to polling day claiming that Ukip posed a threat to Labour – but in the event the swing from Labour to Ukip was only 1.65 per cent. Miliband can now resist the calls for him to match Cameron’s offer of a referendum on Europe and concentrate on shoring up the really dangerous cracks in the Labour election platform – on the economy, where he and Ed Balls are still not gaining the trust of the majority of voters.
The message for Nigel Farage:
So far, so good, but the Ukip leader should not overdo the hyperbole. Yes, beating the Tories into third place is satisfying, but Cameron is right: it was not the major breakthrough Farage was predicting, he attracted very few Labour voters – and he won’t be forming the next government. This result suggests he could certainly prevent Cameron getting the keys to Number Ten for a second term - but in doing so, he'll only be helping get a pro–European Labour leader into Downing Street. Should he be considering a pact with the Tories?
The message for Nick Clegg:
The Liberal Democrat leader is the one who should be most worried by this result. It suggests that the protest vote which inflated Lib Dem support will go to Ukip and that the Lib Dems are going to get hammered for supporting the Tories in the coalition government. The Lib Dems saw their share of the vote fall by 17.44 per cent from 2010 to a derisory 4.91 per cent yesterday. It can only get worse in the European elections. Immediately after Euro-polling day, Clegg will be under pressure to cut the Tories adrift, and start paddling furiously for Labour. This could mean Cameron being forced to run a minority government for as along as 12 months. On a personal level, Nick Clegg's seat in Sheffield Hallam could even be at risk. That's because it is a one-time Tory seat that want. If the protest vote that once went to the Lib Dems were to go to Ukip instead, anything could happen.
It may be time to start looking for a job back in Brussels, Nick.