Alex Massie

Brown Toastwatch

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So, as expected, the Tories win the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Handsomely. The remarkable thing is that it took so long and that the Tory brand remained so toxic that this is the first by-election gain the party has enjoyed enjoyed since Labour came to power in 1997. In fact, it's the Tories first bye-election gain since 1982. But all things must come to an end. Once the worm turns it stays turned. This, remember, is seat number 165 on the Tories' list of target seats. A 17.6% swing is at the high end of Tory hopes.

True, this result alone won't topple Gordon Brown. He will limp on. Labour's problem is that they, not the Tories, are the poisonous party now. One should beware of saying "never" but it's hard to see what Brown can do to recover. The public is deciding that he's a loser and this, coupled with a natural fatigue for a party that's been in power for more than a decade, will doom him.

But to win a landslide, David Cameron will need to hold Crewe - and places like it - in the General Election. That's a different matter entirely. As Fraser says in his column this week, the difference between a workable and a thumping majority may depend upon the extent to which Cameron risks making a positive case for Conservatism. I doubt Brown can win at all, but the country hasn't yet fallen in love with Cameron either.

However, this result is going to cause enormous trouble on the Labour back-benchers. Once the rot starts, discipline frays and it becomes harder and harder to maintain any kind of steady course. At this rate many of them are going to lose their jobs. As John McDonnell MP has just told the BBC "It would be a grave mistake to suppose this is just a case of mid-term blues..." Quite so.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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