The BBC and the Today programme could barely conceal their delight about the Barnsley Central by election result, gloating over the drop in the Lib Dem vote from 2nd to 6th place. On this their coverage did not differ much from the rest of the media. Indeed this was spectacular. But it wasn’t the only spectacular thing about the result. For the first time ever in a parliamentary election UKIP claimed second place, as the Tory vote plummeted.
This should give us pause. It means that the Tories are leaking votes to the right, with UKIP, not the Greens, standing a real chance of being the leading protest party. Come the General Election, the Tories should have little difficulty in clawing the votes back. But that won’t stop their activists from panicking in the meantime. That puts David Cameron in a tricky position. His newly-acquired left-leaning voters offer the Lib Dems their best chance of clawing back lost ground; any moves to appease the UKIP tendency will simply drive these voters into their waiting arms. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.
There is a second pause for thought. If the Tories leak votes to the Lib Dems on the left and UKIP on the right, they will benefit much more from AV than conventional wisdom has it. Unfortunately their supporters are probably too thick to understand this, on past performance, and so they will continue to campaign vigorously for a No vote. Mr Cameron is clever enough to appreciate this, no doubt adding to his dilemma.