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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.