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.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.