Douglas Carswell with Nigel Farage at the press conference announcing his defection to Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ukip 44 points ahead of the Tories in Clacton by-election poll

Douglas Carswell set for landslide victory after his defection to Ukip from the Tories. 

Even before the date of the Clacton by-election has been announced, the contest is all but over. A Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday gives Ukip a remarkable 44-point lead in Douglas Carswell's seat following his defection to the party from the Tories on Friday. Ukip, which did not field a candidate in 2010, is on 64 per cent, with the Conservatives on 20 per cent (down 33 points since the general election), Labour on 13 per cent (down 12) and the Lib Dems on 2 per cent (down 11), putting them on course to lose their deposit for the tenth time in this parliament. 

Clacton was previously estimated by Revolt on the Right authors Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford to be the most Ukip-friendly seat in the country (economically deprived, elderly, white, anti-immigrant) and tonight's poll vindicates that judgement. While Carswell's strong personal following has helped, 57 per cent of Ukip supporters say they are voting that way because they "like Ukip", compared to 34 per cent who say they "like Carswell" and 9 per cent who say they are casting a protest vote. Expect these figures to be cited by those who argue that the former Tory MP has cynically jumped ship in order to avoid defeat next year. Immigration is by far the main concern for Ukip voters (57 per cent), followed by the EU (13 per cent) and the cost of living (6 per cent). 

Based on the poll, there appears to be nothing the Conservatives can say or do to hold the seat. Even were they to install Boris Johnson as the candidate, as some commentators have suggested, Ukip's lead would fall by just 11 points to 33 per cent (60-27). Perhaps most worryingly of all for the Tories, Ukip supporters are almost entirely unmoved by the warning that voting for the party risks making Ed Miliband prime minister. Just 15 per cent say they would be less likely to vote Ukip, while 16 per cent say they would be more likely and 69 per cent say it would make no difference. 

The question for the Conservatives is whether they still run a full-blown by-election campaign, risking a humiliating defeat, or instead go easy on Carswell. Those in the party who were already arguing that they should give the defector a free run will cite the poll as further justification for doing so. 

It is now a near-certainty that Ukip will win its first elected MP, with all the dangers that entails for the Tories. Victory for Carswell will ensure Ukip even greater publicity and make it far harder for its opponents to dismiss it as a party of protest. If Ukip wins one MP, why can't it win more? For the Tory leadership, the fear is that others may be persuaded to cross the floor ahead of May 2015, not least if they believe this would give them a better chance of holding their seats. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.