David Cameron was last night being urged to “learn the lessons” of the Conservatives’ dismal performance in the Eastleigh by-election amid mounting disquiet on his own backbenches.
The Liberal Democrats landed what Nick Clegg described as a “stunning victory” in the early hours of yesterday, holding on to the seat despite a torrid few weeks for the party following the resignation of disgraced sitting MP Chris Huhne and the allegations of sexual harassment levelled at its former master strategist Lord Rennard.
But it was the surprise second place for Ukip that humiliated the Conservatives, who had begun the three-week Eastleigh campaign fighting their coalition partners in what appeared to be a two-way marginal, but ended it in the ignominy of third place.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the result was “disappointing” for his party, but dismissed it as a mid-term protest and insisted he would not now lurch to the right in a bid to pick up votes.
Some of his backbenchers, however, called for a change in direction from the top of the party.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, York Outer MP Julian Sturdy – a Parliamentary aide in the Department for Transport – said “lessons have to be learned” by the Tories from the defeat.
His fellow backbencher Eleanor Laing, who described herself as having been “utterly loyal” during her career, said many Tories felt “hurt” by the way they were treated by the party leadership.
“They feel left out,” she said. “They’re told that they’re old-fashioned and they think that they don’t matter and that what they stand for, and what they believe in, doesn’t matter.”
She warned Mr Cameron that his MPs are “in despair” about the number of people resigning from the party.