Nigel Farage speaks during a campaign event at Kelham Hall in Newark. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Newark doesn't show that Ukip's bubble has burst

The party is still achieving record ratings in the national polls. 

It took little time for Labour and Tory supporters to gleefully declare that Ukip's bubble had burst after Lord Ashcroft published a poll showing the Tories 15 points ahead in the Newark by-election. If the party can't take seats off the government in mid-term, as the SDP did regularly in the 1980s, what kind of insurgency is it? 

But while Westminster's desire to see the Farageists fail is an understandable one, Newark doesn't show that they have. For a start, the party's rating of 27 per cent represents a swing of 17.5 per cent since 2010, not unimpressive in what is only the 248th most "Ukip friendly" seat. That second place in a by-election is now viewed as a failure only shows how successful it has been in the last year. Look beyond Newark, and the signs remain encouraging for the party. Ukip was on 19 per cent in Ashcroft's national poll and is on 17 per cent in today's YouGov poll, its joint-highest rating ever.

A fairer test of Ukip's ability to win Westminster seats would be a by-election in one of its top 50 targets. What is clear is that, barring an unlikely meltdown, the party will have a decisive effect on the general election result. In 2010, it won 3 per cent of the vote, enough to deprive the Tories of up to 20 seats (there were 20 constituencies in which the party's vote exceeded the Labour majority). Should Ukip poll more than twice that (as it almost certainly will), and continue to take votes disproportionately from the Conservatives, it could do what Tories fear most and deliver victory to Ed Miliband. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.