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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism will do him more good than harm

The Labour leader's criticism of police cuts and western foreign policy will resonate with voters.

The election campaign, if there was any doubt, has resumed. In his speech responding to the Manchester attack, Jeremy Corbyn did not limit himself to expressions of sympathy and solidarity. He squarely targeted Theresa May on her home turf: policing and security.

The Conservatives' repeated warning is that Corbyn is a "threat" to his country. But the Labour leader countered that only he could keep it "safe". Austerity, he declared, "has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap." May, having been warned by the Police Federation while home secretary of the danger of cuts, is undoubtedly vulnerable on this front. Under Labour, Corbyn vowed, "there will be more police on the streets" (despite Diane Abbott's erroneous arithmetic), while the security services would receive whatever resources they need.

Corbyn swiftly progressed to foreign policy, the great passion of his political life. Though it is facile to reduce terrorism to a "blowback" against western interventionism (as if jihadists were Pavlovian dogs, rather than moral agents), it is blinkered to dismiss any connection. As Corbyn noted: "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home" (the Tory-led Foreign Affairs Select Committee is among those who agree).That the former Stop the War chair has long taken this view absolves him of the charge of crude political opportunism.

Corbyn was also more careful than his pre-briefed remarks suggested to caveat his criticisms. He emphasised: "Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

"And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre."

But he maintained his central charge: western intervention has made the world more dangerous, not less. "We must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working," he said. "We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism."

Though Corbyn's arguments have appalled Conservatives (and some in Labour), they are ones that will likely find favour among the public. Polls have consistently shown that most voters oppose western adventurism and believe it has endangered the UK. Corbyn's words will resonate among both the anti-interventionist left and the isolationist right (this is, after all, a country which has just voted to retreat from even its closest neighbours).

The speech, given at 1 Great George Street (in the room where Ed Miliband gave his resignation address), was marred by Corbyn's refusal to take questions. But it was unarguably well-delivered. "Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror," he warned in a pre-emptive strike against the Conservatives.

Corbyn's decision to give an overtly political speech four days after the Manchester attack is being widely described as a "gamble" or even a profound error. But the election will now rightly focus more closely on the issue of security - nothing should be beyond democratic debate.

Many of Corbyn's life-long stances, such as unilateral disarmament, do not find favour with the electorate. But there was little in his speech today that the average voter would contest. The Conservatives will hope to turn the heightened security debate to their advantage, ruthlessly quoting Corbyn against himself. But on this front, as on others, the Labour leader is proving a tougher opponent than they anticipated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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