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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.

MUST READS

Angela Merkel's burqa ban is sexist, racist and wrong says Laurie

Brendan Simms on how Donald Trump could spell doom for the UK

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 domestic and global politics.

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

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