Nigel Farage at the by-election count in Newark last night. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tactical voting against Ukip is bad news for Farage

The Newark by-election saw centre-left voters hold their noses and back the Tories to stop Ukip. 

The Newark by-election, which the Tories won more comfortably than many expected, may represent the birth of a new trend in British politics: tactical voting against Ukip. Labour MPs who visited the constituency told me that they encountered a significant number of traditional centre-left supporters who held their noses and voted Conservative on the grounds that it was the best means of stopping Farage's party. One voter compared it to backing Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. 

While some will regard this as an attempt by Labour to spin away a poor result, Conservative activists report having similar conversations. "I've never voted Tory in my life, but I'm not having those bastards [Ukip] getting in," one Newark resident was quoted as saying. Tactical voting for the Tories at least partly explains why Labour's vote fell and the Lib Dems' collapsed. 

Ukip's decision to select Roger Helmer (whose past comments include describing rape victims as sharing "the blame" and homosexuals as "abnormal and undesirable") as its candidate was undoubtedly a factor. But it is also possible that the recent series of racist and sexist incidents has led the party at large to become toxic in the eyes of most voters.

As recent polling by YouGov has shown, 53 per cent of people now have a negative view of Ukip, up from 37 per cent in 2009. In Newark, the party polled particularly badly among women, with Survation's final poll putting them in third place on just 17 per cent, compared to 37 per cent among men. While the attacks on Ukip as "racist" have hardened its support among some groups, they have also limited its long-term potential. (For the same reason, eurosceptics worry that Ukip is contaminating the anti-EU movement. As support for Ukip has risen, support for withdrawal has fallen.) 

For Nigel Farage, who acknowledges the importance of the party securing seats at Westminster, it is a worrying trend. If tactical voting against Ukip becomes a feature of British elections it will be far harder for the party to win MPs. To avoid being hamstrung by a low ceiling on its support, Ukip needs to detoxify its brand. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.