The Prime Minister must be feeling the uncomfortably hot breath of the United Kingdom Independence Party on his neck, as their undoubted threat to the Conservatives will now be tested in the ballot box far sooner than he had anticipated.
The decision by Patrick Mercer, the Independent and former Conservative MP, to quit Parliament over a new cash-for-questions scandal, has opened the way for a by-election in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
It’s a traditionally Tory seat with a huge Tory majority, but the arrival and growth of Ukip and its out-of-Europe message has drastically changed all that, drawing many discontented but formerly faithful Conservative voters into its fold. As such, Cameron could be faced with the prospect of seeing this party’s majority dwindle – or even be wiped out – at this forthcoming by-election.
Mr Mercer lost the Conservative whip and became an Independent MP after the disclosure of his “offence”.
Then, the relevant Parliamentary Committee decided he should be banned from attending the Palace of Westminster for six months as a punishment.
The Prime Minister must have been praying that Mercer would hang on and not subject the Conservatives to the potential embarrassment of a by-election. But it was not to be.
Mercer, an ex-soldier, marched on to The Green outside Parliament and announced that he would be quitting Parliament.
He was not, in other words, going to play ball. He said he was ashamed of what he had done but saw no point in shilly-shallying around.
The Prime Minister must have been distraught at hearing this news. No doubt he and his cronies will claim to be “relaxed” about this turn of event – but that is pure Westminster-speak for saying that they are actually trembling in their boots.
For Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, it is an unexpected but heaven-sent opportunity to demonstrate (he hopes) that his party is more than just a rolling, boasting bandwagon, but a movement that can pull votes and make a difference to this country’s political landscape.