The Conservative party was braced for a difficult Sunday night amid expectations it will lose to the UK Independence party in the European elections.
On Friday there was discomfort for Labour leader Ed Miliband, after Ukip took about one in five votes in local elections, seizing numerous council seats in Labour’s heartlands in the north.
That prompted an internal row over whether Mr Miliband should have campaigned more aggressively against the anti-EU party.
But the spotlight will switch to the Conservatives if they receive a lower share of the vote than Ukip when the European election results come in at about 11pm.
Mr Cameron is already under pressure from his backbench MPs to move to the right on crime, immigration and, in particular, the EU.
David Davis, a Tory MP who stood unsuccessfully for the leadership eight years ago, said on Sunday the party should promise a referendum on EU membership in 2016 instead of 2017 as planned.
“The government’s insistence that it intends to recommend an ‘in’ vote, without any clear conditions, has robbed its policy of both clarity and credibility,” he said.
He said the government appeared to be “moving crab-like towards a referendum” and had not clearly explained why the UK should stay in. The party needed to “grasp this nettle” to prevent Ukip’s rise, he said.
Last week’s local elections were only in parts of England and Northern Ireland, in particular in Labour-dominated metropolitan councils and London boroughs.
By contrast every adult in the UK can vote in the European elections, and the results should give a clearer picture of which parties are being damaged the most by the rise of Ukip.
Despite its local election insurgency in Labour strongholds, pollsters say the party is still attracting far more former Tory than Labour voters.
Mr Miliband’s position was bolstered on Saturday after a poll found that Labour was on track to win next year’s general election because Ukip has taken Tory votes in key marginal seats.
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