Nigel Farage could win by running for Thanet South. Photo: Getty
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Ashcroft polls: sealing Nigel Farage's seat as Thanet South?

Lord Ashcroft’s latest marginal polls put Ukip in first place in the constituencies of Thurrock and Thanet South.

The latest polling of marginal seats by Lord Ashcroft is good news for Ukip, may give Labour some cheer, but is a bit of a gloomy picture for the Tories.

Surveying the “battleground” seats – 14 Conservative-held seats with Labour in second place – the polling is noteworthy for Ukip now being first place in two (Thurrock and Thanet South), and for the nine-point fall in the Tory vote share since 2010.

Ukip’s rising popularity means has resulted in it now leading in two seats: Thurrock and Thanet South. It has also jumped ahead of Labour to second place, behind the Conservatives, in Great Yarmouth.

The Tory peer and respected pollster points out that this means Ukip’s overall vote share nationally won’t necessarily indicate how they’ll do in the general election: “their vote in these [battleground] seats ranges from 9 per cent in Hendon to 31 per cent in Great Yarmouth, 33 per cent in Thanet South and 36 per cent in Thurrock”. This suggests, if Ukip can hold on to such figures for ten more months, that Farage and his troops could do some significant damage on the ground, in spite of the national picture of their prospects.

And speaking of Farage, this polling could also tell us where the Ukip leader will stand as an MP. Thanet South is a likely seat for Farage to contest, and he has been tipped for it for a while. Its current MP, Laura Sandys, is one of a significant number of 2010-intake Tories to be standing down in 2015 after just one term, a decision that sparked speculation about where Farage will stand. Of course, he’s contested the seat before, in 2005, where he came fourth. Will the polling’s suggestion that he’d come top embolden him to try the same patch again?

And aside from Ukip euphoria, Labour could also be reading these polling results with a grin. As Ashcroft points out, although the opposition’s score remains unchanged at 38 per cent, the Tories’ nine-point fall in the vote share in these particular seats “points to a 4.5 per cent swing to Labour”.

If the election directly reflects this polling, Labour could win 53 Conservative seats. This combined with gains from the Lib Dems, as Ashcroft pointed towards in another set of recent polling, could put Labour on-track for “a small overall majority”. But rather than having the effect of Labour sitting comfortably and awaiting a replication of this polling in the election results, this is more likely to put the fear into the Conservative campaign machine, which some say has been optimistic about a Tory majority outcome.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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David Cameron seeks a "clear majority" for air strikes in Syria as Jeremy Corbyn signals his opposition

The Labour leader warns military action will increase the threat to the UK. The PM argues it will reduce it. 

There is a Commons majority for air strikes against Isis in Syria - but Jeremy Corbyn will not be part of it. That was clear from David Cameron's statement on the need for military action and Corbyn's response. Cameron's most significant argument for intervention was that the threat to the UK from terrorism would only increase if it failed to act. The intelligence services, he said, had warned that Britain was already in the "top tier" of countries targeted by Isis. It was inaction, rather than action, that was the greatest risk.

Corbyn's response, consisting of seven questions, signalled that he does not share this view. Citing Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, he quoted Barack Obama on the danger of "unintended consequences". His question on the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK and of civilian deaths in Syria showed that he believes both will be increased by UK air strikes. Yet a significant number of Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members share Cameron's view. Corbyn must now resolve by Monday whether to offer his party a free vote on the issue or whether to whip it against intervention (at the likely cost of frontbench resignations). The third option: Corbyn voting for air strikes seems unthinkable. 

Cameron, who was responding to the recent foreign affairs select commitee report opposing action, had made a multipronged case for intervention. He argued that the UK could make a unique military contribution through its Brimstone precision missiles (more accurate than those of any country), that there was a moral and strategic imperative for Britain to support its allies, the US and France; that a political process was underway (but action was needed before it concluded); that the threat from Isis would grow in the absence of intervention; that the UN resolution passed last week provided legal authorisation (along with the right to self-defence); that 70,000 Syrian opposition forces and Kurdish troops could fight Isis on the ground; that the government would contribute at least £1bn to post-conflict resolution; and that the west would not dismantle the Syrian state or its institutions (learning from the error of de-Ba'athification).

In response to Corbyn, Cameron later ruled out the use of UK ground troops. He maintained that "Assad must go" but argued for what he called an "Isil first" strategy. "We have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands now," he concluded.

The political test set by Cameron was to achieve a "clear majority" for military action. He warned that anything less would be a "publicity coup" for Isis. There are increasing signs that Cameron is close to meeting his aim. In response to his statement, Conservative MPs, including Crispin Blunt, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee (who previously opposed air strikes), Ken Clarke and Sarah Wollaston, announced that they would be voting for intervention. But, as Cameron all but conceded, Corbyn will not be. The question facing the Labour leader is how he handles those in his party who intend to do so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.