Sebastian Payne

A day in Newark: the Tories are winning the ground war against Ukip

With one week to go till polling day, the Tories are throwing the kitchen sink at the Newark by-election. When Patrick Mercer resigned last month, it was assumed the Conservatives would easily hold the seat. But since then, Ukip gave a strong performance locally in the Euro elections, adding an unknown element — a higher turnout in Ukip’s favour? A rise in the anti-politics sentiment?

I visited Newark today to find out how the battle is going. My overall impression is that the Ukip’s operation is being completely dwarfed by the Conservatives. Over 1,000 Tory activists were here last Saturday, with the same expected again this weekend. MPs and ministers are being continuously bussed in. Today alone, five minister have been campaigning in Newark — George Osborne, Sajid Javid, Theresa May, Liz Truss and Matthew Hancock.

On the streets of Newark-on-Trent, it was hard to avoid Tory activists; walking purposefully towards their designated locations. The Ukippers, on the other hand, were wandering aimlessly around the town centre handing out leaflets. Despite the suggestion of using data to build a more sophisticated operation, Ukip have yet to build a professional campaign. Labour and the Lib Dems were unsurprisingly nowhere to be seen.

As with most by-elections, there is a danger that voters will be turned off by all the attention. One Tory activist who’d been out last weekend — the day the postal voting cards arrived — joked to me about how bombarded the constituents are about to be. Day one of the campaign and offering a man washing his car a leaflet, he jokingly accepted replying ‘just add it to the pile over on the wall’.

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