It is dangerous to read too much into the results of by-elections. Traditionally, the government of the day does badly in such contests as voters use them to register their discontent over all sorts of issues, both local or national.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be foolish to ignore the crushing defeat suffered by Labour in the Crewe and Nantwich poll. By any measure, a 17.6% swing to the Conservatives, coming on top of the Tory win in the Mayor of London contest, is a clear indication of popular discontent with Mr Brown's premiership.
He is quite right to identify public concern over constantly rising food prices, soaring fuel prices and the general state of the economy as the main factors of discontent. He may argue that some of those issues are beyond his control. Rising fuel prices and the credit crunch are global in nature.
Yet they are hitting voters, particularly those on middle incomes, extremely hard and they want Mr Brown to give an indication that he is aware of the pain they are suffering and that he will take whatever action he can to help. Fuel tax, for example, is to go up by around 2p a litre in October. Mr Brown should move swiftly to axe that, given that the UK is already burdened with some of the highest tax rates on fuel in Europe.
Taxation is one of the areas where Mr Brown is most vulnerable. Businesses feel they are carrying an undue burden of taxation, with a rise in corporation tax for small firms, the scrapping of the 10p rate for capital gains tax, the levy on non-domiciled wealthy foreigners and proposed anti-avoidance measures on foreign profits.
Whether he likes it or not, Mr Brown, both as Chancellor and as Prime Minister, has a reputation for taxing by stealth.
As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, there is little sympathy for the Prime Minister's plight.
He is not seen as a particular friend of the province because of his refusal to countenance a reduction in corporation tax rates to boost foreign investment. As well, he has been begrudging in recognising the changed political circumstances here through a financial peace dividend.
Instead, he has attempted to portray funding we would have received anyway as 'new money'.
It is no secret that Mr Brown wanted the keys to Number 10 for many years, but his current difficulties show the wisdom of the old adage — be careful what you wish for.
He has come to office at a difficult time and, to date, has shown a distinct lack of decisiveness or sureness of touch. His dithering over bailing out Northern Rock and the furore over the scrapping of the 10p income tax band have severely damaged his reputation.
Almost by default, Conservative leader David Cameron is becoming a credible Prime Minister-in-waiting.
The momentum is certainly with him and unless Mr Brown can regain public confidence quickly, he could find himself in grave difficulties.
Political parties are quick to turn on their leaders if they are seen as an electoral liability. Mr Brown is on probation at the moment, both withiin the Labour Party and in the country as a whole.