As Tory bosses keep themselves awake at night with thoughts that Nigel Farage's Ukip may come first in the looming EU elections, backbencher Mark Field thinks there may be an even worse outcome for the party - Ukip coming second.

The former shadow Treasury minister points out that, for Farage's storm troopers to come first they would have to take votes off Labour as well as the Conservatives and that would spread the panic a bit more widely and evenly. Obvious, really.

So it is the second-placed Farage scenario that is the most likely to pitch the Tory party into the much-predicted "headless chickens" moment as they frantically search for answers to the Farage threat to their general election chances.

"If Ukip comes top it will be a bigger problem for Labour. But there would also be the temptation for all the bigger parties to dismiss them as just protest votes at Euro elections (a traditional moment for voters to kick incumbent parties secure in the knowledge the outcome will not affect the way the UK is ruled).

"My worry is that if Ukip come second, with us in third place, there could be a panic in the party over how we answer the threat."

He hopes the Tories will "hold their nerve", in the event of a Farage surge, but is well aware that is easier said than done.

"There is a bit of a temptation in the Tory party, all parties actually, to have either complacency on one hand or panic on the other. That is also whipped up by the press," he said.

It is a shame, in Field's view, that the party has trapped itself in a fixed-term, five-year parliament which means it cannot do what many would dearly love to do and hold the general election this May, either on or just before the Euro election.

That, he says, would not only mean David Cameron could take advantage of the economic recovery before it leads to dangerous demands for election giveaways, but would also mean the Ukip threat would be minimised. There would not be a year for Farage to build on a good Euro poll showing to further chip away at the Tory vote in the subsequent general election.

Field, who was first elected to the Cities of London and Westminster seat in 2001, has seen plenty of election action over the years but, like many in the current parliament, believes we are living in unpredictable new times which have changed many of the once-accepted political calculations.

The most difficult to predict is the effect of four party politics with the emergence of Ukip as a real force and the fact that as a result Labour seems to have decided on a hard-nosed strategy that it only needs to win 35-36% of the vote for victory in 2015.

That, he believes, may be driving the series of populist policies on issues like energy prices, the banks and the 50% top tax rate, which might be enough to do the job for them.

"The concern is that, when we drill down into the numbers we will see, as we already have in county council elections and are likely to in May's local and Euro elections, that Ukip is very strong in specific areas and Farage will accept he is not going to win a general election so will put all his resources into 20 or 25 seats."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage
UKIP leader Nigel Farage

Many, if not all, of those seats will be Tory so take that along with Labour's 35% strategy and the Tories would be in serious trouble.

"But we have just got to hold our nerve. We have seen with all the tittle tattle in recent weeks that no one takes Ukip too seriously. No one is saying they are going through their policies line by line and like them. Basically they are just putting two fingers up to the entire mainstream political class."

The thing that is playing to the Tories' advantage of course is the economy. But even that can present the party with difficulties.

"There is a danger that if growth starts to look too good, there will start to be pressure on George Osborne to offer some pre-election giveaways, which would be a big mistake.

"On the other hand, should the current growth figures stall even a bit, Labour will leap on that and say the whole recovery was illusory. It's more reason why it would be much better if we were not stuck in a fixed-term parliament.

"Cameron could call the poll now with the message that the recovery was under way but there is still a lot of work to do, we have started down the right path , there is a long way to go but these guys would take us down the wrong path."

Whatever happens though, Field knows it will be difficult for Cameron to win an overall majority at the next election and a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats may also prove difficult.

"It is very difficult to see, without constituency boundary changes, how we get majority. So the question is, do we get close enough to to the 326 seats we need, rather than the 307 we got last time, to go it alone. Or will we have to look to the Lib Dems again.

"The events of the last two weeks (the Lord Rennard "sex pest" claims) have made me wonder whether if the Lib Dems will recover or are they so discredited they will lose a lot of their seats.

"Anyway, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable also know that, if they form another coalition with us after 2015, it would be very difficult to present themselves as a truly independent force. So there must be a chance they could go with Labour after the election."