Minister quits and Tory MP defects
David Cameron has been dealt a double blow after a Government minister quit in a sex scandal and another Tory MP announced he was defecting to Ukip.
On the eve of the Conservative Party conference, Cabinet Office minister Brooks Newmark resigned after reportedly sending explicit pictures of himself to an undercover newspaper reporter in a tabloid sting.
His announcement came just hours after Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless sent shock waves through the Tory ranks with his declaration that he was joining Nigel Farage's "people's army".
He is the second Conservative to defect to Ukip within a month, joining Clacton MP Douglas Carswell.
For the Tories gathering in Birmingham for the final time before the general election in May, there could hardly have been a worse start to their annual conference.
According to the Sunday Mirror, Mr Newmark - the Minister for Civil Society and a founder of the Women2Win campaign group - allegedly exchanged X-rated pictures over the internet with a reporter posing as a Tory PR girl.
The 56-year-old married father of five tendered his resignation after learning that the newspaper was about to publish details of their exchanges.
"I have decided to resign as Minister for Civil Society having been notified of a story to be published in a Sunday newspaper. I would like to appeal for the privacy of my family to be respected at this time," he said in a statement.
Earlier, Mr Reckless received an ecstatic reception from Ukip activists at their party conference in Doncaster after he declared he was leaving the Tories, accusing the leadership of failing to keep its promises on Europe, the economy and immigration.
"People feel ignored, taken for granted, over taxed, over regulated, ripped off and lied to," he declared to rapturous applause.
Mr Cameron, arriving tonight in Birmingham with his wife Samantha, wished waiting reporters "good evening" but did not respond to questions about the twin setbacks.
Nevertheless there was deep anger in the Conservative ranks, with a party spokesman denouncing the move as "completely illogical", warning "a vote for Ukip is a vote for Ed Miliband" and Labour.
His constituency party chairman, Andrew Mackness, said that he was "astonished and disgusted" by the MP's action.
"Only 48 hours ago he proclaimed his support for the Conservatives and their plans for a referendum on Europe and he gave me assurances he wouldn't defect," he said.
"He has misled the hard-working people of Rochester and Strood who voted for him."
Like Mr Carswell, Mr Reckless said that he would be standing down as an MP in order to fight the seat as a Ukip candidate in a by-election.
Although he took the Kent constituency with a majority of almost 10,000 at the last general election, he may face a a tough battle to return to Westminster.
Mr Farage acknowledged that he did not enjoy the same "personal following that Mr Carswell has in Clacton", but he told BBC News that he would do "whatever it takes" to get him re-elected.
"This man has shown huge courage. He has thrown his lot in with us and we will do everything we can to get him elected," he said.
In his speech, Mr Reckless told activists that too many election pledges had been broken during the course of the Parliament and he dismissed Mr Cameron's promise of an in/out referendum on membership of the EU.
"I'm afraid I have reluctantly reached the view that he is doing so purely as a device," he said.
"He has already pre-ordained his intended outcome, namely continued membership of the EU on something very close to the present terms. Everything else is for show.
"What the Prime Minister has in mind, and it's not even a secret at Westminster, is modelled on what Harold Wilson did in 1975 - a bogus renegotiation followed by a loaded referendum."
Government whip Gavin Barwell dismissed the Ukip leader as a "bigot".
Hitting back at Labour taunts that he might be the next to defect, he wrote on Twitter: "In. Your. Dreams.
"Will never have anything to do with a bigot like Farage."
In his last act as a Tory MP, Mr Reckless rebelled against the Government in the emergency Commons vote on air strikes against Islamic State militants.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps suggested that people would wonder "whether you can trust anything that he is saying".
"Even late last night he was leaving voicemails with people saying how much he was looking forward to coming to a campaign day this Sunday here in Birmingham Northfield for one of our candidates," he told BBC News.
"People will come to their own conclusions about whether this is therefore a trustworthy individual."