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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.