Robert Jenrick, the Conservative candidate for Newark, addresses the audience in Kelham Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tories comfortably defeat Ukip in Newark by-election

The party holds the seat with a majority of more than 7,000 as the Lib Dems are pushed into sixth place.

Ukip's forward march has been halted. As polls predicted, the Tories comfortably won the Newark by-election with a reduced majority of 7,403. The party will be relieved at the size of its victory over Ukip, which had hoped to use the momentum from its first-place finish in the European elections to run them close (Nigel Farage last night predicted a Conservative majority of 2,500 at most). Instead, David Cameron enjoys the distinction of being the first Conservative leader since 1989 (when William Hague took Richmond). to win a by-election while in government.

But while Ukip failed to deliver the shock it hoped, its performance shouldn't be dismissed. The party still finished a comfortable second, winning a swing of 15.5 per cent and 25.9 per cent of the vote in a seat that is only the 248th most "Ukip friendly". That this is viewed as a "failure" is a sign of how far it has come. After pouring resources into the constituency, with every Conservative MP ordered to visit three times and David Cameron making four appearances, it would have been remarkable if the Tories had not held the seat. As Chris Bryant, who ran Labour's campaign, said: "They threw the kitchen sink, they threw the butler's sink, they threw the crockery, all the silverware, the Aga, the butler, the home help – everything at it."

Had the party run an alternative candidate to Roger Helmer, whose past comments include describing rape victims as sharing "the blame" and homosexuals as "abnormal and undesirable", it would almost certainly have performed better. One Labour source told me that some voters cast a tactical vote for the Tories to stop Ukip, with one comparing it to voting for Jacques Chirac over Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. "Helmer is Hitler," one said. 

Some in Labour will be disappointed to have finished third with just 17.7 per cent of the vote, down from 22.3 per cent in 2010, but after calculating that it could not win, the party consciously choose to fight a modest campaign. For the Lib Dems, it was another dismal night. The party finished sixth, behind the Greens and an independent candidate, with just 2.6 per cent of the vote - one of its worst ever by-election performances - and lost its deposit for the ninth time in this parliament.

It would be wrong to say that Ukip's bubble has burst. The party is still polling at near-record levels in national surveys and will be a force at the general election. But it will be more aware than ever that to shed its status as a party of protest it needs to gain a foothold in Westminster.

Here's the result in full:

Conservative 17,431 45.0% (-8.9%)

Ukip 10,028 25.9% (+22.1%)

Labour 6,842 17.7% (-4.6%)

Paul Baggaley (Independent) 1,891 4.9% (N/A)

Green 1,057 2.7% (N/A)

Liberal Democrat 1,004 2.6% (-17.4%)

Monster Raving Loony Party 168 0.4% (N/A)

Andy Hayes (Independent) 117 0.3% (N/A)

Bus-Pass Elvis Party 87 0.2% (N/A)

Common Good  64 0.2% (N/A)

Patriotic Socialist Party 18 0.1% (N/A)

Majority: 7,403 (19.1%)

Turnout: 38,707 (52.79%)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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