It would be churlish to suggest that the Eastleigh by-election is ‘disastrous’, but coming third in a seat we polled almost 40 per cent in the general election is not good by anyone’s measure.
This is the price that has to be paid for gay marriage because of the drastic unpopularity of it with activists and supporters, who have been less inclined to get out and campaign on the streets because of it. The issue has been a direct recruiting seargeant for UKIP, and there’s anecdotal evidence across the country for UKIP.
There are two main lessons for me from this result. The first is that the government has to deal with the specific issue of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration as this was a key part of UKIP’s campaign. They have not convinced voters that they are serious about it, and they should have listened when I introduced my Ten-Minute Rule Bill on the EU Free Movement Directive in October as they could be well down the road by now with preparations for this. Ministers are having cross party-meetings, but it has been complete spatchcock approach so far and David Cameron needs to take personal responsibility for this.
The second issue is that the Budget has absolutely got to be one for working families, focused on the cost of living.
Will this be immediately a dangerous flashpoint for Cameron’s leadership? I don’t think so, but there are important issues that the party needs to get to grips with in the coming months.
Stewart Jackson is Conservative MP for Peterborough.