Crewe. Henley. Glasgow East. Are the voters trying to tell us something? Here's today's Newcastle Journal column.
When in years to come, historians pore over the long, slow demise of New Labour, the series of by-elections in the spring and summer of 2008 will, I believe, be seen as a crucial period.
First there was the catastrophe in Crewe, after the contest held in the wake of Gwyneth Dunwoody’s death saw David Cameron’s Tories win their first seat off Labour for nearly 30 years.
Then it was humiliation in Henley, as Labour lost its deposit and slumped to fifth place behind the British National Party and the Greens.
Finally, on Thursday night, the earthquake in East Glasgow, after Labour’s hitherto third-safest seat in Scotland disappeared to the Scottish National Party on a 22pc swing.
As he surveys the wreckage this weekend, Prime Minister Gordon Brown must be cursing the malign combination of political circumstances that forced him to fight three by-elections in as many months.
Had they not taken place, he might by now have been able to shore-up his position and even build some political momentum. As it is, a clear alternative narrative is now emerging.
There can be no writing-off these results as a short-term protest vote such as happened in the post-Iraq War by-elections in the predominantly Moslem constituencies of Leicester South and Brent East during the last Parliament.
No, the story of the three 2008 by-elections is of a clear and demonstrable collapse in public support for Labour in general, and Mr Brown in particular.
What is particularly damaging about the Glasgow East result is that this was a revolt not of the swing vote but of the Labour core vote, which now seems to be bleeding away.
When the by-election date was set for July 24 – two days after the start of the summer Parliamentary recess – there were those who claimed it had been deliberately timed to minimise the threat of MPs plotting against Mr Brown.
If that is the case, then Mr Brown’s strategists have clearly never heard of email or the mobile phone.
Labour MPs may be scattered to the four winds this weekend, but expect the lines to be humming between the beaches of Europe and beyond.
As it is, a number of Labour MPs and ministers will not be sunning themselves, despite the current unaccustomed spell of decent summer weather.
Instead, they will be at the party’s national policy forum in Warwick, discussing the contents of the next Labour manifesto with the trades unions and grassroots constituency activists.
Ostensibly, the conference is about whether or not to implement a.long shopping list of demands ranging from scrapping NHS prescription charges to the reintroduction of secondary picketing.
But the subtext will be the position of Mr Brown. To paraphrase the Bible verse, when two or three Labour activists are gathered together, the talk shall quickly turn to the leadership.
Up until now, the prospects of a successful challenge to Mr Brown have been hampered by the absence of a clear alternative candidate, but if one is to emerge, then now is surely the time.
Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell set out his stall this week by publishing a Green Paper on welfare reform, advocating the scrapping of Incapacity Benefit and making those out of work for more than two years work full-time in the community.
At one level, it demonstrated that there is intellectual life in New Labour yet, in terms of fresh ideas which could underpin what would be an unprecedented fourth term in power.
But at another level, it was hard to escape the conclusion that it was designed as a piece of pre-leadership election positioning, a warning to Foreign Secretary David Miliband that he is not the only Blairite pebble on the beach
Despite his undoubted intellect, though, Mr Purnell carries the air of a lightweight about him and his election would manage the considerable feat of making Mr Cameron look statesmanlike.
South Shields MP Mr Miliband remains the man to beat, although it seems clear he will not be the one to raise the standard of rebellion.
His old alliance with Health Secretary Alan Johnson could be key. The two were education ministers together under Mr Blair and became huge admirers of eachother’s work.
Mr Johnson has said he is not up to the job of Premier, but the idea of him playing John Prescott to Mr Miliband’s Tony Blair could be an increasingly seductive one.
Mr Brown’s instinct will be to plough on. We read this week that he is planning a September reshuffle, the centrepiece of which will be to bring back Margaret Beckett as the government’s chief apologist, or “Minister for the Today Programme.”
Now Mrs Beckett has been a loyal servant of the nation, and despite an undistinguished spell as Foreign Secretary, she was rather harshly treated when left out of Mr Brown’s first administration last year.
But if the Prime Minister really believes that bringing her back into a senior Cabinet role is going to restore his or Labour’s political fortunes, it demonstrates how out of touch he is.
Increasingly, the view among Labour MPs is that the only minister Mr Brown should consider reshuffling is himself.
A dream scenario for Mr Brown is that no clear challenger emerges over the course of the coming weeks, and he restores his authority with the conference speech of his life in September.
But such has been the scale of the public backlash against the government in recent months that it is unrealistic not to expect his leadership to now be openly called into question.
The corresponding nightmare scenario for the Prime Minister is that, against a backdrop of dissension and even open revolt, he makes a poor speech which reinforces the speculation about his position.
Sadly for him, this seems overwhelmingly the likelier of the two outcomes.