Downing Street will be sighing with relief at the first poll published on the Newark by-election. After a week of intense publicity for Ukip on the back of their victory in the European elections, the poll puts the Tories eight points ahead of the Farageists on 36 per cent (down 18 points on their general election share), with Ukip on 28 per cent (up 24), Labour just behind on 27 (up four) and the Lib Dems on a dismal 5 per cent (down five).
The poll will be seen as confirmation that the Tories are on course to hold the seat vacated by Patrick Mercer last month. Should they do so, it will be the first time they have won a by-election as a governing party since 1989. Ukip has not been aided by its decision to select the former Conservative MEP Roger Helmer, whose past comments include describing rape victims as sharing "the blame" and being gay as "abnormal and undesirable", as its candidate. At a moment when Ukip is attempting to detoxify its brand among centrist voters, Helmer was a bizarre choice. One Tory told that me "Attacking Helmer is like shooting fish in a barrel".
But while the Tories are in front, the 21 per cent swing to Ukip shows that the momentum is with Farage's party (which traditionally surges late in by-election). More than half (51 per cent) of its supporters voted Conservative in 2010, with 16 per cent coming from Labour and 12 per cent from the Lib Dems. With just under a week to go, a late Ukip surge can't be ruled out. Had Farage dared to stand himself, they could be in front already.