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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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.