Nigel Farage during the Newark by-election count. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Tories have picked the wrong man to take on Farage

Rather than choosing a former Ukip leader as their candidate in South Thanet, the party should have selected a liberal figure capable of winning tactical votes. 

With a whimper, rather than a bang, Nigel Farage has confirmed that he is standing for selection as Ukip's candidate in South Thanet. After the local party secretary rather unhelpfully leaked the news to the FT last week, the announcement is tucked away at the bottom of his Independent column today. He writes: "Of course I think I stand a good chance of winning. I have fought the seat before and it is in my home county of Kent and an area I have represented in the European Parliament since 1999."

Farage finished fourth when he stood in the Tory-held seat in 2005, and only managed third place when he ran in John Bercow's Buckingham constituency in 2010, but he is right to believe he can improve on both of these performances. A recent Lord Ashcroft poll put Ukip in first place in South Thanet and the party won seven out of eight seats on the county council last May, leaving the Tories without a single representative. 

Aware that Farage was likely to stand in the constituency, the Tories acted pre-emptively by selecting former Ukip leader and deputy leader Craig Mackinlay as their PPC (sitting MP Laura Sandys is standing down). The logic is clear: by choosing a robust eurosceptic as their candidate, the Tories hope to prevent right-leaning voters from defecting to the purple army.  

But the strategy is a questionable one. To win the seat, where they currently hold a 7,617 majority, the Tories would have been wiser to select a liberal candidate capable of winning tactical votes from Labour and Lib Dem supporters. In the recent Newark by-election, a significant number of centre-left voters held their noses and voted Conservative on the grounds that it was the best means of stopping Farage's party. One compared it to backing Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. Another said: "I've never voted Tory in my life, but I'm not having those bastards [Ukip] getting in". 

It may be that such voters are prepared to back Mackinlay. But it is worth remembering how poorly Tory candidate Maria Hutchings performed in the Eastleigh by-election after running on a Ukip-style platform. The lesson that Tory modernisers drew was that you can't out-Ukip Ukip (as Lord Ashcroft has repeatedly warned the party). But it is not one that seems have to been applied to South Thanet. With Labour also in contention for the seat, which it held between 1997 and 2005, it is Miliband's party that could benefit if the Tories fail to attract tactical votes. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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