UKIP failed to translate its recent electoral triumphs into a coveted Commons seat today as the Conservatives secured a comfortable victory in the Newark by-election.
David Cameron acknowledged the Tories needed to work to win back voters from Ukip as the Conservatives saw their majority slashed in the Newark by-election.
Robert Jenrick saw off the threat from the Eurosceptics, but the Tory majority was cut significantly from 16,152 to just 7,403.
Mr Cameron insisted it was a “very good result” for the Tories, and the party’s first by-election win while in government for more than 20 years.
But speaking in Bayeux ahead of D-Day commemoration events he acknowledged the challenge posed by Ukip.
Asked how he would win back support from Nigel Farage’s party he said: “We need to work between now and the next election to say very clearly we have got a long-term plan, we are getting Britain back to work, we are cutting people’s taxes, we are helping hard-working people.
“The job isn’t finished yet but we are on the right track, let’s stick at it.”
Ukip surged from a distant fifth in 2010 to second, pushing Labour in to third place, while Liberal Democrat support was obliterated, leaving the candidate trailing in sixth place.
In a sign of the depth of concern in the Tory camp over the possibility of losing, all the party’s MPs were told to visit the seat to drum up support and the Prime Minister hit the campaign trail four times.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage conceded his party had been defeated while the votes were still being counted, but hailed the result as Ukip’s “strongest ever by-election performance”.
MEP Roger Helmer increased the anti-European Union party’s support from just 1,954 votes in 2010 to 10,028.
The by-election came fresh on the back of Ukip’s historic success in the European Parliament elections when it topped the poll.
Although Ukip failed to come close to taking the seat, it increased its share of the vote by 22% and secured a swing from the Tories of 15%.
Speaking after the result, Mr Farage said: “I think there’ll be an awful lot of Conservatives with a majority of less than 10,000 who will look upon this result in sheer horror.”
But he admitted he would have liked to have done better in Newark.
“Yes, I mean the majority’s halved and we thought we’d bitten into it even more than that, but nonetheless for Ukip it’s still a good night’s work,” he said.
The Lib Dem candidate David Watts polled 1,004 votes - not enough to hold the party’s deposit.
Labour’s Michael Payne polled 6,842 votes, down 4.6%.
The by-election was triggered by disgraced ex-Tory Patrick Mercer’s decision to stand down.
He quit the Conservative whip last year while an investigation was carried out into claims that he asked questions in Parliament in return for money and stood down as an MP in April ahead of the findings being published.
New MP Mr Jenrick said: “The people of Newark have voted to back this Government, to back this Government’s long- term economic plan to secure the future of this constituency and of this great country.”
Welcoming the result in Newark, Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was a big team effort by the whole Conservative Party and it was a strong win for the Conservatives, a strong endorsement of the economic plan which is turning Britain around. That is precisely the argument we will now take to the general election in less than a year’s time.”
Mr Osborne said the reduction in the Conservative majority was to be expected in a by-election, when turn-outs are lower than at general elections.
But he added: “Let’s be clear - this is the first time in 25 years that the Conservative Party has held a by-election in government. This is a very strong result and what is also striking is it’s a disastrous result for our principle opponents, the Labour Party, who came in third in a seat that they had held under Tony Blair.”
Despite the swing to Ukip, the eurosceptic party performed less well than it had done in the local and European elections in the area last week, he said.
C gain from Ind
Robert Jenrick (C) 17,431 (45.03%, -8.82%)
Roger Helmer (UKIP) 10,028 (25.91%, +22.09%)
Michael Payne (Lab) 6,842 (17.68%, -4.65%)
Paul Baggaley (Ind) 1,891 (4.89%)
David Kirwan (Green) 1,057 (2.73%)
David Watts (LD) 1,004 (2.59%, -17.41%)
Nick The Flying Brick (Loony) 168 (0.43%)
Andy Hayes (Ind) 117 (0.30%)
David Bishop (BP Elvis) 87 (0.22%)
Dick Rodgers (Stop Banks) 64 (0.17%)
Lee Woods (Pat Soc) 18 (0.05%)
C maj 7,403 (19.13%)
15.46% swing C to UKIP
Electorate 73,486; Turnout 38,707 (52.67%, -18.69%)
2010: C maj 16,152 (31.53%) - Turnout 51,228 (71.36%)
Mercer (C) 27,590 (53.86%); Campbell (Lab) 11,438 (22.33%); Jenkins (LD) 10,246 (20.00%); Irvine (UKIP) 1,954 (3.81%)