The Tories have held Newark with a comfortable majority of 7,000 plus. The party will be relieved to have won and delighted with the size of their majority over Ukip which was far larger than the 2,500 that Nigel Farage had been predicting earlier in the night.
There will be relief in Downing Street and CCHQ that they have sidestepped this banana skin. Considering that the by-election was a result of the disgrace of the previous Tory MP Patrick Mercer and took place only 11 days after Ukip had topped the poll in the European Elections, it had the potential to be a disaster for the Tories that could have sent the party into a Ukip-induced panic. But victory, and especially by this margin, will ensure that the Tory party goes into the summer in relatively calm and united fashion.
For Labour, there must be disappointment at a third place finish. If Labour was on course for a comfortable general election win, it would have come within striking distance of taking this seat. Instead, its share of the vote in Newark has actually declined—down from 22% at the general election to 18%.
But I suspect that this bad result for Labour will be obscured by another dismal Lib Dem performance. The Lib Dems came sixth behind both the Greens and a local hospital party and lost their deposit, the ninth time that this has happened since 2010. The BBC says that this was the worst ever Lib Dem by-election performance in mainland Britain. Now, the Liberal Democrat leadership will say that, ultimately, what matters is their vote in the seats that they hold. But Newark is another reminder of how outside of their redoubts, their vote has collapsed almost entirely.
If Ukip had won this by-election, the party would have gone into the summer with the big mo. It’d have topped the poll in a nationwide vote and gained its first MP. But in the end, Ukip didn’t even match its performance in the Eastleigh by-election. With the Tories holding on in Newark, there is now a circuit break on the Ukip surge.