Tories set to hold Newark: has Ukip run out of steam?
While Farage majors in hyperbole, he is not versed in the art of expectation management, poll suggests
The Conservatives look set to hold on to Newark in Thursday's by-election. Despite a leap in the number of people prepared to vote for Ukip, the anti-Europe party's campaign has not been strong enough to win them their first Westminster seat.
That is the main finding of a special by-election poll which puts the Tories on 42 per cent, Ukip on 27 per cent (up from three per cent at the 2010 general election) and Labour third on 20 per cent.
The poll was commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, the former Tory vice-chairman, who released the results this afternoon.
Although Tory support in Newark is down by 12 points on the 2010 general election, victory will be sweet for Prime Minister David Cameron and the Tories' Newark candidate, Robert Jenrick.
Not only will they have put a temporary halt to the seemingly runaway Ukip train – but it will be the first time the Conservatives, while in power, have managed to hold on to a seat in a by-election since 1989 when William Hague was first elected in Richmond, Yorkshire.
The poll will come as some relief to Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who will be vindicated for choosing not to stand in Newark and instead deciding to wait for a safer Westminster seat.
However, if the Ashcroft survey proves accurate, then it does mark a setback for Farage's party.
Ukip topped the poll in this region in last month's European parliament election and the candidate in Newark is none other than their MEP, Roger Helmer. They were battling for a seat where the one-time Tory MP, Patrick Mercer, had become embroiled in sleaze allegations - the sort of fight Ukip revels in.
Their failure to take it will be seen as proof that while Farage majors in hyperbole, he is not versed in the art of expectation management.
Ed Miliband can take some comfort from the fact that Labour have dropped only two points on their 2010 election score in Newark, compared with the 12 points lost by the Tories and a stunning 14 points dropped by the Lib Dems (who risk losing their deposit on Thursday).
However, Team Miliband will not be so happy with the more personal aspects of Ashcroft's findings.
A total of two-thirds of Newark voters said either that they were satisfied with the job David Cameron was doing as Prime Minister or that, even though they were dissatisfied, they still preferred him to Miliband. Only one-fifth of all voters – and only two-thirds of Labour supporters - said they would rather see Miliband in Downing Street after the next general election
Among Newark voters as a whole, Cameron and George Osborne were more trusted to run the economy than Miliband and Ed Balls by a margin of 62 per cent to 24 per cent. A majority of Ukip voters said the same thing and 25 per cent of Labour supporters agreed.
However, Newark is not a target seat for Labour at the 2015 general election and Team Miliband will doubtless choose to take more notice of two national voting intention polls just out – both of which are encouraging for Labour.
A weekly Ashcroft telephone poll puts Labour ahead of the Tories by nine points and a regular Populus poll has Labour ahead by five points. As Anthony Wells writes for UKPollingReport, that might not look notable at first sight, but Populus tends to show some of the lowest Labour leads. Five points is actually the biggest gap they've reported since February.
Back to Newark and a word of warning from Mike Smithson of PoliticalBetting. He makes the point that at previous by-elections, polling has tended to underestimate the Ukip vote.
However, one thing made clear by Ashcroft's polling in Newark is that Farage is wrong to claim, as he does constantly, that a Ukip vote is no longer just a protest vote.
Seven in ten of those planning to vote for Helmer on Thursday say they are making a general protest to show they are unhappy with all the parties; only 16 per cent of them say protest was not a factor.