by Ray Fleming

The Eastleigh by-election was dominated by the remarkable performance of UKIP in taking second place and humiliating David Cameron and the Conservatives in the process. Both the victorious Liberal Democrats and the shamed Conservatives lost about 14 per cent of the votes they had at the general election and many of these must have been picked up by UKIP. Indeed two opinion polls conducted on Thursday showed that more than half of those voting for UKIP said they had done so as a protest to the two leading parties and would probably revert to their first allegiance at the general election.

That may be some consolation to the Conservatives but there was more than statistics to think about in their failure to win an election which from several angles was theirs for the taking. One senior backbench MP was quoted yesterday as wondering whether Cameron is a “loser”. The MEP Daniel Hannan was in such a panic that he proposed a pact with UKIP -- unlikely when the prime minister has called its members “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. Eleanor Laing, an influential former front-bench MP said “the leadership of the party isn't tuning in to the hopes and fears of the vast majority of ordinary people today.” David Cameron should be very worried -- not about UKIP, which is unlikely to repeat its show, but about his policies and his performance.