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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.