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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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.