The Rochester and Strood by-election result was not declared until after 0400 hours this morning, which rather put the mockers on it for most of the press, but the result was more or less as expected, with Mark Reckless winning for UKIP the seat he had previously held for the Tories, with his old party second and Labour third, and the Lib Dems scoring less than one per cent of the vote.
Those papers that shill for the Tories will see their favoured team throwing everything at the contest, losing, and then point at Labour and say “look over there at the real losers”. It was only going to be about UKIP and Young Dave’s jolly good chaps. And the Tories might look at the low turnout and Reckless’ majority, then ask Kelly Tolhurst to stick around so she can take the seat next May.
But what the Blue Team must now hope is that no more of its MPs – and, whisper it quietly, MEPs – will join Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers. That hope may be tested very soon: already, a number of Tory MPs have been polling their electorates on the UK’s membership of the EU, just as Reckless and Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell did.
The three named by the press are Peter Bone (and perhaps Mrs Bone too) who represents Wellingborough, Philip Hollobone from the next door constituency of Kettering, and Martin Vickers, who sits for Cleethorpes. “Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Martin Vickers carrying out local ballots ... They are canvassing constituents on whether Britain should leave the EU” tells the Mail.
The sub-headings continue “Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless carried out polls before defecting ... All three deny they are planning to leave the Conservatives for Ukip”. Mandy Rice-Davies situation, methinks. Maybe one of them will jump, but maybe not: none of those constituencies has the kind of majority that instils confidence. But there are others on the watch list.
John Baron, representing Basildon and Billericay, is one: Basildon was the seat that, when the Tories held on to it in 1992, was said to embody the spirit of “Basildon Man”, who was even prepared to endorse the appalling David Amess in order to keep out the rotten lefties. And also named in Nick Watt’s piece for the Guardian is serial rebel Tory Philip Davies, from Shipley.
Then there is the great imponderable: what of Dan, Dan The Oratory Man? Hannan, it seems, did not trouble himself turning out to support Ms Tolhurst’s campaign in Rochester and Strood, despite being an MEP for the area. If he jumps ship, there will be no by-election: European Parliament rules mean he stays in place until 2019, whether the Tory leadership wants him to or not.
Cameron is not out of the woods yet, not that his press pals want you to know that.