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 strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.