Newark by-election: Were there any real winners?

Robert Jenrick holds Newark for the Conservatives - the first time the Tories have clung on in a by-election while in power in 25 years
Robert Jenrick holds Newark for the Conservatives - the first time the Tories have clung on in a by-election while in powerin 25 years
Alex Stevenson By

The Conservatives have seen off the Ukip threat in the Newark by-election with an impressive-looking victory, with their candidate Robert Jenrick elected to parliament with a comfortable majority of over 7,000.

But this has been a deeply confusing contest in which expectations have skewed perceptions about who's done well - and who should be pleased.

So here's a summary of the spin each party is putting out this morning - and what the real state of play actually is in the seat.

FIRST - Conservatives (Robert Jenrick): 17,431
45% vote share, DOWN 8.9%

Good news: The Tories have the most to be proud of. Often by-election holds by governing parties feel flat because their majority has taken a pounding. Such was the extent of the pounding the party received just a fortnight ago in the European and local elections, though, that many will have feared the Ukip 'earthquake' really could have rocked Newark. That it failed to do so was not without a monumental effort from the Tories. David Cameron visited the constituency four times during the campaign. Yesterday, at 4pm, I rang an MP asking for a quote. 'Sorry,' he texted back, 'I'm pounding the streets in Newark.' All their hard work seems to have paid off.


Bad news: Conservative support in Newark haemorrhaged to Ukip in this by-election at exactly the same rate as it did two weeks ago. The swing - around 15% from Tory to Ukip - was matched in large parts of the country in the European elections. By-elections are another opportunity for a protest vote, of course - but no party can walk away truly satisfied when it sheds 10,000 supporters in a single constituency.

Quote: "We can take some comfort but we know the job isn't done." George Osborne, speaking on the Today programme, in cautious mode. This was a "team effort", he declared - but there won't be such focused resources in 11 months' time.

SECOND - Ukip (Roger Helmer): 10,028

25.9% vote share, UP 22.1%

Good news: Usually any party enjoying a 22% increase in a by-election is doing pretty well. If this result were taking place in a different political context, the headlines would be reading very differently. And the Kippers have a lot to be positive about here - after all, 85% of those who backed Nigel Farage's party in May did so again in this contest.

Bad news: The problem for Farage is one of perception: the ease with which the Conservatives held on to the seat is going to dampen the idea that Ukip have an unstoppable political momentum. That matters; as the other parties have complained, the media's fixation with Ukip has distracted the national debate away from them. There may be slightly less of that now the Conservatives have shown Ukip's march is not unstoppable.

Quote: "All round I can assure you that the people's army are going to be very happy with this result." Nigel Farage a few hours before the result, when it was already painfully clear that this wasn't going to be his night. He has complained about the Tories pouring resources into the campaign as the biggest reason why he failed to hit his main goal of beating Ukip's best vote share of 27.8% in a by-election. This, it's clear, was no Eastleigh.

THIRD - Labour (Michael Payne): 6,842

17.7% vote share, DOWN 4.7%

Good news: For a contest which the Labour party made a decision not to care less about, slipping just five per cent on 2010 was not such a bad result. The shadow Cabinet barely bothered to campaign and there was not much cash thrown the way of candidate Michael Payne, either. They certainly did better than the Lib Dems, anyway.

Bad news: Being pushed into third shouldn't be written off as a temporary glitch. It is a serious setback for a party hoping to win a general election in less than a year. Parties of opposition are supposed to see their vote share go up, not down, in by-elections. That they have failed to do so is damning.

Quote: "While this was always going to be a tough by-election, I am extremely proud of the campaign that Labour has fought." Payne puts on a brave face. Sadly, though, his post-election quotes have the air of someone doing a show-and-tell presentation about their recent holiday adventures.

FOURTH - Paul Baggaley, independent: 1,891

4.89% (no candidate in 2010)

Verdict: Baggaley, who was campaigning to protect Newark hospital, got into four figures but just missed out on keeping his deposit. Still, he was a factor in this election - and should be very pleased with his efforts.

Quote: "The Lib Dems have accepted that we beat them because we are a local campaign that matters. We made Westminster take note."

FIFTH - Green (David Kirwan): 1,057

2.73% (no candidate in 2010)

Good news: The Greens didn't have a candidate here in 2010, but made a decent dent into the electorate. They're delighted to have beaten the Lib Dems into fifth place. And on a repeat of these changes, their candidate David Kirwan has pointed out, they'd win Norwich South in 2015.

Bad news: No-one seems to care that they exist. Yet again the media's coverage has largely ignored their progress.

Quote: "Very much five-party politics now!" Kirwan in delighted mode.

SIXTH - Liberal Democrats (David Watts): 1,004

2.6% vote share, DOWN 17%

Good news: Well done, Nick Clegg! His party managed to hold off a serious electoral threat from the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Bad news: The Liberal Democrats, who slip from third to sixth in the seat, have put in yet another staggeringly poor by-election performance. They weren't even close to keeping their deposit and barely made it over the 1,000 mark. Slipping 17% is eye-wateringly bad. The party's confidence, surely, is going to be sorely shaken.

Quote: "Smaller parties often get squeezed in by-elections and that’s what’s happened to us here." Is it wisdom - or denial? Watts' claim is probably true to some extent, the suggestion being that left-leaning voters actually turned to the Tories to keep Ukip out. But it's a pretty desperate excuse to be making. Years ago the Lib Dems always did well in by-elections. How things have changed...

 

 

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