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The Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election shows Labour has more than Ukip to fear

The party has a Liberal Democrat problem as well. 

Brexit giveth, and Brexit taketh away. The Conservatives have won a thumping victory in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election. The numbers that matter:

  • Caroline Johnson (Conservative)  53.5%
  • Victoria Ayling (Ukip) 13.5%
  • Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat) 11%
  • Jim Clarke (Labour) 10.2%

It's one of the Tory party's best by-election performances while in government - their vote share still above 50 per cent and miles ahead of their nearest competitors. What will make the victory even sweeter is what's happened to the Labour vote - a seven point fall in their share of the vote, and a collapse from second place to fourth. 

But for all the hype around Paul Nuttall and how he was set to transform Ukip into a Labour-killer, that party's vote share is down too - it's only the collapse in Labour's vote that has allowed them to take second, rather than any great uptick in that party's fortunes. 

The only party with anything to cheer about - other than the Conservatives - are the Liberal Democrats, continuing their post-referendum pattern of astonishing revival. What many seem to have misunderstood: even in places like Hykeham, which backed Brexit by a heavy margin, the Remain vote is significantly larger than the Liberal one. If they can hold onto to their 2015 vote and add Remain votes from Tory and Labour, they can hope for real gains at the next election. (Of particular significance - in the South West, the Labour and Green vote they need to take back seats from the Conservatives, tends to have voted Remain on 23 June.)

What's increasingly clear: the further anti-immigration turn of Theresa May's government has fixed the Conservatives' Ukip problem, but they've acquired a Liberal Democrat one.  Labour, meanwhile, hasn't fixed its Ukip problem and now as a Liberal Democrat one to match. 

Blairites used to worry that Ed Miliband was pursuing a 35 per cent strategy (the Labour vote in 2010 topped up with disgruntled Liberal Democrats). It's fairly clear that Theresa May has decided to pitch her tent towards the 52 per cent who voted Leave, while Tim Farron is going for the 48 per cent who decided to Remain. What Labour wants is to talk about their plans to fix the British economy and negotiate a better Brexit than the Conservatives can. That has the advantage of not putting further pressure on the splits in the parliamentary Labour party and the divide in the party's electoral coalition. The real risk, however, is what they've ended up with is a zero per cent strategy.

Downing Street has disavowed remarks made by Boris Johnson, this time about the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary said Saudi Arabia was "twisting and abusing" Islam and acting as a "puppeteer" in the region. It's a further rift between Downing Street and the FCO. "Saudi row wides Boris rift with May" is the Telegraph's splash.

HELPING HANDS

Greg Hands and Mark Field have been tasked with secretly wooing other centre-right parties and MEPs ahead of Brexit talks, the FT reveals.

DR FRANKENSTEIN TO VILLAGERS: I'VE GOT THIS

Jon Lansman has vowed to stay and fight for the future Momentum, the pro-Corbyn organisation he founded, which has split into open division over its rules and structures. Rajeev Syal has the details in the Guardian.

HEY! THERESA! LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE!

Children from families that are "just about managing" (earning £18-21k a year) are significantly less likely to gain entrance to a grammar school than their wealthier peers, a new report by the Sutton Trust has found. Julia has the details.

YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME, I'M WITH THE UNION

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, a civil service union, has chastised Theresa May for criticising civil servants in a recent interview, saying that "few definitions of leadership include criticising your overworked and underpaid staff".

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Amelia finds out what it's like to share a name with a hate figure online.

CHRISTMAS APPEAL

This year's NS Christmas charity is Lumos. JK Rowling, its founder and the author of the Harry Potter books, talks about its work with Eddie Redmayne here. If you can, please donate here.

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This originally appeared in today's Morning Call: get it in your inboxes Monday through Friday - sign up here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Tony Blair won't endorse the Labour leader - Jeremy Corbyn's fans are celebrating

The thrice-elected Prime Minister is no fan of the new Labour leader. 

Labour heavyweights usually support each other - at least in public. But the former Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't bring himself to do so when asked on Sky News.

He dodged the question of whether the current Labour leader was the best person to lead the country, instead urging voters not to give Theresa May a "blank cheque". 

If this seems shocking, it's worth remembering that Corbyn refused to say whether he would pick "Trotskyism or Blairism" during the Labour leadership campaign. Corbyn was after all behind the Stop the War Coalition, which opposed Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq. 

For some Corbyn supporters, it seems that there couldn't be a greater boon than the thrice-elected PM witholding his endorsement in a critical general election. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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