Ukip surge could put David Cameron at risk, Tories warn

Party likely to deprive Tories of victory in many seats, fuelling fears about their prospects in 2015

David Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party could come under renewed threat if the UK Independence Party performs strongly in next week's local elections, senior Tories warned today.

The Tory high command has insisted that the Prime Minister has enough credit in the bank to survive expected losses of more than 300 council seats on Thursday.

However, senior Tory MPs denied that a formal challenge to Mr Cameron before the 2015 general election had been ruled out. "It all depends on how Ukip does next week," one told The Independent. "If Ukip does well, all bets are off."

Conservative chiefs argue that the Tory family closed ranks after Margaret Thatcher's death and that party spirits have been raised after Britain avoided a "triple dip" recession and Mr Cameron gave MPs a bigger role in policy-making in a shake-up of the Downing Street machine.

But they acknowledge the "wildcard" in next week's contests will be the impact of Ukip, which is standing in more than 70 per cent of the 2,400 local authority seats up for grabs.

Although it is unlikely to win large numbers of councillors, it could deprive the Tories of victory in many more, adding to Tory losses and fuelling MPs' fears about their own prospects at the general election.

Along with its strong anti-European Union message, Ukip is campaigning heavily on issues likely to appeal to wavering Conservatives, including opposition to green belt development, wind-farms and a second high-speed rail line.

Conservative headquarters in London has advised local activists to warn natural Tories that switching to Ukip would "let Labour in through the back door".

With Ukip ahead of the Liberal Democrats in some opinion polls, academics say the elections will be the first test of what has become Britain's "four-party politics" - and potentially the biggest shock to the system since the Social Democratic Party broke away from Labour in the early 1980s.

One Labour campaigner said: "Just because they are hitting the Tories now in terms of votes, membership and morale, that doesn't mean we should be complacent. They could do the same to us down the track."

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, and the Tories insist the party takes votes from all parties and from people who did not vote in 2010. But experts say Ukip is hurting the Tories most, with some polls suggesting that 18 per cent of Conservative supporters at the last election have switched allegiance.

The majority of the seats being fought are in Conservative strongholds in the English shires - and their dominance has been reinforced by the fact they were last contested in 2009 when Gordon Brown's government was plumbing depths of unpopularity.

Labour will need to make hundreds of gains to demonstrate that Ed Miliband's "one nation" message is resonating with voters.

It looks certain to recapture councils such as Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - authorities it should never have lost in the first place - but there will also be a focus on its performance in swaths of southern England currently immune to the party's charms.

The Liberal Democrats, who are standing in 71 per cent of seats compared with nearly 90 per cent four years ago, will be keen to demonstrate their vote is holding up in areas where they are strong in local government. Their top target councils are Somerset, Devon and Northumberland.

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, the elections experts from the University of Plymouth, are forecasting about 310 Tory losses, 350 Labour gains, 130 Liberal Democrat losses and 40 Ukip gains.

Labour is certain to win a convincing majority in a parliamentary by-election also being held on Thursday in South Shields. Ukip has high hopes of leap-frogging the Tories to come second.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam