Chris Moncrieff: By-election blow should have Cameron worried

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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 the Chancellor, George Osborne, claim that 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.

In my opinion, Cameron should be deeply worried by this turn of events.

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.

Meanwhile, this latest by-election result provided yet another bleak message for the Liberal Democrats 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 the by-election reminds me of a true incident which occurred just after the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition in 2010.

A man telephoned the Liberal Democrat 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?”

THE battle for an independent Scotland is hotting up – and there is still some seven months to go before the referendum takes place.

Some weeks ago, there seemed to be little doubt that those who want to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom would get trounced, but that belief appears to have changed dramatically. Now, the “yes” vote is growing in ascendancy.

Already, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have all said, almost in unison, that Scotland would not be allowed to adopt the pound sterling as its currency. And now, European Union grandees have said it would be nigh-on impossible for a breakaway Scotland to join the EU.

However, an undaunted Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister who, most would agree, has more political nous and acumen in his little finger than Cameron, Miliband and Clegg put together, has hit back hard, accusing George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of being all “bluff, bluster and bullying”. And he added for good measure: “The days of bullying Scotland are over.”

The “no” vote Better Together is led by Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, who is a decent man and effective debater, but someone who lacks the fire that such a post should carry. I can foresee that Salmond will be running rings around his opponents over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, why is the rest of the United Kingdom denied a vote in an event which will have a huge effect not just on Scotland but everywhere South of the Border as well?

DR Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, has bitterly attacked the Government’s wholesale reform of the welfare system.

The Archbishop has claimed that these reforms “punish the poor”, adding it is a disgrace that many people are forced to rely on food banks.

I think that most people would see how the efforts of Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, are designed to end the welfare culture where people capable of working are instead relying on the support of the hard-pressed taxpayer.

But the Archbishop, before criticising other people in public, should look in the backyard of the Roman Catholic Church at the allegations of sexual abuse of children, and accusations of a disgraceful cover-up. Once Dr Nichols has ensured that these have been cleared up, then he might be more eligible to start to attack other people and institutions.

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.