Nigel Farage meets locals and party officials during a visit on April 23, 2014 in Yarm. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage looks like a bottler - and he only has himself to blame

After foolishly boasting that victory in the Newark by-election would force David Cameron to resign, the Ukip leader marched his troops back down the hill. 

Having marched his troops to the top of the hill, Nigel Farage has just marched them down back down again. After stoking speculation that he would stand in the Newark by-election by boasting last night that David Cameron would have to resign if he won, the Ukip leader has just told the BBC that he won't be running after all. He said outside his home in Bath: 

It was only 12 hours ago that Patrick Mercer stood down, so I haven't had long to think about it, but I have thought about it, and we're just over three weeks away from a European election at which I think Ukip could cause an earthquake in British politics, from which we can go on and win not just one parliamentary seat but quite a lot of parliamentary seats.

For that reason, I don't want to do anything that deflects from the European election campaign, so I'm not going to stand in this by-election.

I want to focus the next three weeks on winning the European elections and also I don't have any links with the East Midlands. I would just look like an opportunist, and I don't think that would work.

Were he being honest, Farage would have admitted that there was one big reason why he chose not to stand: he feared he would lose. The Tories currently enjoy a majority of 16,152 in Newark and a lead of 25,636 over Ukip (which polled 3.8 per cent in 2010). Even with the momentum that would follow victory in the European elections, overcoming that deficit would have been a daunting challenge. Ukip briefed this morning that it fears the elderly, middle-class Conservative vote is "solid", and it is almost certainly right. 

Farage made the right call. But having allowed, and even encouraged, speculation to run out of control, he has been unavoidably damaged this morning. There was no need for him to boast that he was powerful enough to topple Cameron, or to declare that winning a Westminster seat would "transform the landscape" for Ukip. He could simply have told reporters that he would "sleep on it" and decide in the morning. 

Farage may well still lead Ukip to a remarkable victory on 22 May (indeed, the polls suggest he is almost certain to). But right now the politician he most resembles is Gordon Brown after the election that never was in 2007. For the first time in weeks, Ukip's momentum has stalled. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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