Nigel Farage’s burgeoning United Kingdom Independence Party is going to have a disproportionate, but a critical and decisive, effect on the outcome of the next election, even if it wins only a handful of seats, or none at all.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both privately fearful – even panicky – about the influence Ukip will wield when voters troop to the polling stations next May.
In short, Ukip’s intervention could decide whether we will be governed by David Cameron or Ed Miliband over the following five years.
Opinion polls, including those commissioned privately by the main parties, have shown that in many marginal seats a Ukip candidate could poll enough votes to switch a currently held Conservative seat to Labour and vice versa. And the overall beneficiaries of this are likely to be Labour.
There is what appears to be an easy solution for the Conservatives – to organise some kind of election pact with Ukip to avoid a split of the right-of-centre vote.
But Farage does not trust Cameron and will not form any kind of liaison with the Tories so long as he remains the Conservative leader. And Cameron, for his part, who has denounced Ukip as “fruitcakes” and worse, is equally obstinate about any kind of deal with Farage.
So Cameron will have to look elsewhere if he is to lure back those droves of Tories who deserted to Ukip, which they regard as more Conservative than the official Conservative Party itself, and he has a mighty big hill to climb if he is to secure an overall Commons majority next May – don’t put all your life savings on that happening.
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg inexplicably scuppered a plan to give, as far as is possible, all the parliamentary constituencies a roughly equal number of voters. That was perhaps the most shameful act committed by Cameron’s partners in the coalition.
l I must say it seems bizarre, to say the least, that the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, wants to appoint a relatively inexperienced Australian parliamentary official to fill the £300,000-a-year powerful post as House of Commons Clerk.
The vacancy was caused by the resignation of the outgoing Commons Clerk Sir Robert Rogers who had reportedly been involved in several unpleasant run-ins with the Speaker.
The person Bercow would like to see in the post is Carol Mills who is currently head of the Department of Parliamentary Services of the Australian Senate in Canberra. Even one of her Australian colleagues, Rosemary Laing (who holds the equivalent post in Canberra that Ms Mills would take up in Westminster) has described the appointment as an embarrassment and an affront.
Several of Sir Robert’s former colleagues in the Chamber of the House of Commons, are said to be fuming that their knowledge and experience has apparently been ignored.
Bercow believes that his appointment would provide a “less stuffy” replacement and would help him in his drive to modernise Parliament.
But there is no doubt that a huge parliamentary row is looming over this affair and there is also pressure that Mills’ name should not be put before the Queen for approval before MPs have had their say about it.
Meanwhile, I’d advise Ms Mills to be a little patient, and perhaps not rush to a travel agent to buy her air ticket to London just yet.
l The veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell, who sits for Grimsby, is justifiably cross that older Labour MPs, in some cases, are being urged to stand down at the next election to be replaced, no doubt, by bright young things.
Some of them are apparently being told that they are “urgently” needed in the House of Lords – a bogus claim that cannot be true since the Upper House is already bursting at the seams.
Mr Mitchell, who is 79, is himself standing down at the next election, saying that ageism is now rampant in the party.
It is a sad state of affairs when the wisdom and experience gained over decades by seasoned parliamentarians is now curtly brushed aside. As Mitchell said: “The bright, bushy-tailed new boys and girls think they know it all.”
Well, they don’t.