Nigel Farage during the Rochester by-election, which Tory defector Mark Reckless won for Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage struggling and Clegg in danger of losing seat, Ashcroft poll shows

Ukip are five points behind the Tories in Thanet South with the Lib Dems just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam. 

Of all the constituency polls Lord Ashcroft has published in recent months (May2015 has collected them all here), today's is the most fascinating. In addition to polling 11 Lib Dem-Tory marginals, Ashcroft looked at the state of play in three noteworthy seats: Ed Miliband's Doncaster North, Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam and Nigel Farage's target of Thanet South. 

He found Miliband 12 points ahead in his seat (compared to 26 in 2010) with Ukip in second on 28 per cent and the Tories in third on 23 per cent. As Farage's party have been quick to point out, this means that they could defeat the Labour leader if Conservative supporters vote tactically for them. Cameron is fond of warning "Vote Farage, get Miliband" but in Doncaster at least, Ukip can warn "Vote Tory, get Miliband". 

But while the Labour leader has little reason to fear losing his seat (12 points is a comfortable lead), the same cannot be said of Clegg. Ashcroft's poll found him just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield, a margin too close for comfort. Clegg's seat, in which he had a lead of 19,096 over Miliband's party in 2010, is not one of the 106 seats targeted by the opposition at the election, but with the race this tight, plenty of MPs will be offering their help. Tom Watson tweeted: "Clearing my diary and heading to Sheffield". Defeating Clegg in Sheffield would, after all, be the easiest way for Labour to avoid having to mark with him in the likely event of another hung parliament. This said, given that he's ahead even before any swing-back effect, Clegg will almost certainly retain his seat. 

Unusually, Ashcroft also has some grim news for Ukip. The party is five points behind the Tories in Thanet South (34-29), where Farage is standing, with Labour just three behind. The Ukip leader is likely to devote more attention to the seat next year (which he has been charged with neglecting) but that he's behind at this stage, before any late swing-back, suggests he may fail to join Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless on the Commons' benches. 

More broadly, the poll shows the Lib Dem vote holding up well against the Tories, with the Conservatives on course to win just two of the 11 seats surveyed. As Harry recently noted on May 2015, and as I've written before, this suggests that existing Lib Dem MPs are benefiting from an incumbency effect and that Labour are likely to gain most from the collapse of the party's national vote. Given that the Tories need to make significant gains from the Lib Dems (they are in second place in 37 of the party's 56 seats) to compensate for their likely losses to Labour, it is Ed Miliband who has most reason to smile today. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear