Conservative MP James Wharton, who is set to hold his seat. Photograph: BBC.
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Why is Labour losing to the Tories in ultra-marginal Stockton South?

Losses to Ukip mean the party has failed to gain any ground since 2010. 

Labour strategists have long drawn comfort from their party's polling performance in the marginal seats they need to win in 2015. But a new survey by Survation (commissioned by Unite) of north-east constituency Stockton South, where the sitting Conservative MP James Wharton has a majority of just 332, makes unhappy reading for them.

It puts the Tories in front on 39 per cent (unchanged on 2010) with Labour two points behind on 37 per cent (down one), Ukip on 18 per cent (up 15), the Lib Dems on 3 per cent (down 12) and the Greens on 3 per cent (up three). Support for Nigel Farage's party has surged and support for Nick Clegg's has collapsed but Ed Miliband's has failed to benefit. As the detailed data shows, gains from the latter (35 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems back Labour) have been offset by losses to the former (who 12 per cent of 2010 Labour voters have defected), the Tories and the Greens. Wharton, who has worked hard to build a personal following and who tabled the recent EU referendum bill, is also likely to have benefited from an incumbency effect. 

The poll is a demonstration of the nightmare scenario for Labour in 2015: Ukip soar, the Lib Dems sink, but the Tories manage to cling on as the single largest party. It is also a reminder, as I've argued before, that the real danger facing the party is not that it loses seats to the Farageists (although it may) but that Ukip splits the anti-government vote in Conservative marginals. 

This is, of course, just one survey (and the Tories' lead is within the margin of error) and just one seat. But six months out from the general election, Labour should worry that it has seemingly failed to gain ground in what is a must-win constituency. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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