Ballot boxing lesson for the Prime Minister

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA

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The Prime Minister appears to be taking a remarkably cavalier, even casual, attitude towards the Conservative Party failure to come second in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election.

But despite his public show of bombast at the United Kingdom Independence Party pushing him into third place, privately is he trembling in his boots?

He and Chancellor, George Osborne, claim this is just a normal mid-term by-election result, with the government the recipient of a protest vote, and that at the general election everything will be OK again. But will it?

This is the fifth time Ukip have come second in an election. And, as Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has pointed out, only three weeks ago his party had no presence whatsoever in this constituency, and had never fought it. So in an astonishingly short space of time they have come from nothing to runner-up in totally “foreign” territory.

Simply shrugging off this Ukip success as a flash in the pan and making rude remarks about the party’s members will gain him no Brownie points, let alone votes. He is in a pickle and he knows it, even if he is reluctant to show it. If things go badly wrong for the Tories at the imminent European elections, then Cameron will have to up his game.

He should, in 2010, have beaten the ineffectual Gordon Brown hands down, but because of the Tories’ frankly feeble campaign, he had to form a coalition which has been notable for its inability to work in harmony. Meanwhile, this latest by-election result provided yet another bleak message for the Lib Dems who could not even hold on to their deposit.

We shall see soon enough whether Cameron is capable of raising his game, and whether the Lib Dems can avoid near annihilation.

The outcome of Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election reminds me of a true incident which occurred just after the formation of thecoalition in 2010. A man telephoned the Lib Dem headquarters and asked if he could have a copy of the party’s 2010 general election manifesto. He was told: “I am sorry, sir, but we have sold out...”

“I know,” the man said, “but could I have a copy of the manifesto anyway?”