Pressure on Tories to turn right after UKIP's Eastleigh surge
Cameron is not a true Conservative, says Farage, who rules out any deal with Tories while Dave is in charge
DAVID CAMERON will be under huge pressure from backbenchers this weekend to dump his modernising Conservative agenda and swing to the right after UKIP beat the Tories into a humiliating third place in yesterday's Eastleigh by-election.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, urged Cameron to refuse to bow to such pressure, telling Radio 4's Today programme: "What we have got to demonstrate is the course we have set is producing results." It was always the case, he said, that governments in mid-term "face a moment of temptation to change course". But it had to be resisted.
However, Gove is one of the Cabinet's most ardent modernisers and his views are not going to win over those Tory MPs who now fear for their political lives at the next election. They see UKIP dividing the vote in 2015 and letting Labour through to victory.
Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, said the result showed widespread popular support for UKIP policies for a clampdown on immigration, pulling out of the EU and an end to social reforms such as gay marriage. And he ruled out any deal with the Tories while Cameron remained leader.
The result will have come as a huge relief to Nick Clegg, who would now be facing calls for his resignation as Lib Dem leader if his party had lost. The Lib Dem candidate, Mike Thornton won by a narrow 1,771 majority over the UKIP candidate, Diane James, largely on the postal votes that went in before the late surge to UKIP.
The lack-lustre Tory candidate Maria Hutchings was bundled out of the hall, and avoided any interviews after the result.
It showed that Cameron's party could not reclaim the seat even when the former Lib Dem MP for the seat, Chris Huhne, was facing a prison term for a serious criminal offence and Clegg was embroiled in a scandal about a cover-up of alleged sexual harassment of women at the top of his party.
The result was:
Mike Thornton (Lib Dem) 13,342 (down 14.48%)
Diane James (UKIP) 11,571 (up 24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Con) 10,559 (down 13.96%)
John O'Farrell (Lab) 4,088 (up 0.22%)
Lib Dem majority: 1,771
Turnout: 52.7%, down from 69.3% in 2010)
It means that Cameron's hopes of winning a majority for a Tory government at the next election are toast, if UKIP continues to split the Tory vote. The obvious answer would be a Con-UKIP electoral pact.
Tory MEP Dan Hannan is urging an 'entente' with UKIP on the Telegraph website. But that was ruled out this morning by Farage, as long as Cameron remains the Tory leader.
"I do think it unlikely we can do a deal with the Conservative Party while David Cameron is in charge," said Farage. "I view him as a conman. I don't believe anything he says. He's made promises before on referendums on Europe and he hasn't fulfilled them. Into the bargain, he's abusive and rude about our party and the people who vote for us.'
Farage insisted that UKIP had picked up votes across the board in Eastleigh, not just from the Tories. "A lot of people who came to us hadn't voted for anybody for 20 or 30 years. They see UKIP speaking for them. Only a third of the votes came from the Conservatives," he told the Today programme.
He had this message for Cameron: "The Conservatives failed here because traditional Tory voters asked, 'Is David Cameron a true Conservative?' And they concluded, 'No he's not.' He's talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, and he wants Turkey to join the EU. The Conservative's problems are not because of UKIP, they are because of their leader."
Mostr commentators were unanimous this morning that Cameron is in trouble. Tory blogger James Forsyth describes the Eastleigh result as a "disaster" for the Prime Minister. "David Cameron will face more soundings-off against his leadership," Forsyth blogs on the Spectator website.
Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor, also blogged about the "despair for many Conservatives seeing themselves forced into third place in a seat they need to win to form a majority government in the future and by a party they now fear will rob them of that chance."
While a big vote for UKIP could hand the next election to Labour, Ed Miliband faces searching questions about whether Labour can achieve inroads into the Tory marginals he needs to win to form a majority. Eastleigh makes a Labour-Lib Dem coalition all the more likely in 2015. ·