David Cameron and Boris Johnson campaign in Newark ahead of the by-election on 5 June. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tories ahead in Newark by-election poll, but Ukip could still win

With a week to go, the party's eight-point lead is too small for comfort.

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.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood