Nigel Farage will never know whether Newark was set to join the ranks of Bermondsey, Hamilton or Bradford West in the political atlas of great by-election upsets.
Yet if the mood in the Nottinghamshire town’s Georgian Market Place was anything to go by yesterday the decision not to contest the vacant seat could go down as one of missed opportunity rather than inspired tactical retreat.
Butcher Michael Thorne, 48, was an unabashed fan of Mr Farage having spent 15 minutes in the Ukip leader’s company at a recent market day.
“He is a down-to-earth bloke and he doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s about time we had someone like that,” he said. “It’s about British people for British jobs as far as I’m concerned. We need to support as many local people as we can,” he added.
Customer Terence Dilger, 65, was pondering what to have for his dinner. He was less equivocal in voicing his support for Mr Farage.
“I think he is right on immigration – it is as simple as that,” he said. “When I first came to Newark it was an ordinary town. Now it is a League of Nations. You feel like a stranger in your own town. Even if he didn’t win he would have got his message across.”
According to the 2011 Census figures Newark and neighbouring Sherwood remain remarkably homogenous. From a population of 114,000 some 94 per cent describe themselves as white British. The number of residents from EU accession states was just 1.8 per cent – just over 2,000 people and lower than the English average. But that is not the perception.
Ukip gaffes and controversies
Ukip gaffes and controversies
1/12 Neil Hamilton
Picture Exclusive: The year is 1998. The venue is a Springbok Club meeting. The flag is a symbol for white supremacists in South Africa. And the speaker is Ukip’s deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton
2/12 Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith resigned as would-be MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock after it emerged he had mocked gay party members as “disgusting poofters”, joked about shooting people from Chigwell in a “peasant hunt” and referred to someone with a Chinese name as a “Chinky bird”
3/12 Natasha Bolter
Former Ukip member Natasha Bolter was suspected of not having the teaching qualifications she professed to, only days after it was revealed that claims of her having attended Oxford University were also false
4/12 Ukip Calypso song
Mike Reid released a single in praise of UKIP trying to control the UK's borders, only to withdraw the single after being accused of racism for singing in a Jamaican accent
5/12 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Ukip spin doctor forced to intervene as Farage falters in disastrous radio interview
6/12 Janice Atkinson
Janice Atkinson, Ukip's South East chair, pictured by protesters while campaigning in Ashford, Kent with local party chair Norman Taylor
7/12 Ukip cancels Freephone
Ukip cancels Freephone number after protesters repeatedly called to push up costs
8/12 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Mr Farage appeared to be caught out on a number of issues, from Romanian neighbours to people speaking foreign languages on the train
9/12 Ukip employs illegal immigrants
Ukip criticised after European election candidate found employing illegal immigrants
10/12 Magnus Nielsen
Ukip candidate: 'Take away the right to vote to improve election turnout'
11/12 London Live make-up
Ukip's Nigel Farage reportedly refused to go on London Live 'without professional make up-artist'
Nigel Farage says he is taking taking legal advice over “outrageous” allegations that he is responsible for more than £50,000 of “missing” EU funding that was paid directly into his personal bank account
Shopper Yvonne Mastin, 61, was happy to repeat one of Ukip’s slogans she had read on a leaflet recently put through her door. “We do want Britain back to how it used to be. It’s got totally out of hand,” she said. “I believe in immigration if they have got something to bring,” she said.
Over at his stall selling mobility scooters was Kevin Walker, 54, also a Farage fan. “A vote for him is a vote not for the other two,” he said. “There are too many of them [immigrants]. Whoever said they are not taking our jobs is talking rubbish. If you go to the fields around here see how many of them speak English.
“It’s the same anywhere you go now. I do a lot of care homes and they are all foreign staff. It’s not because we won’t do the jobs it’s because they won’t kick up a fuss and they are cheaper. They will work long hours, but it is not right,” he added.
Ukip is currently looking for a candidate to stand in the seat in which it came fourth with just 3.8 per cent of the vote in 2010.
The Conservatives have selected Robert Jenrick – international business director at Christie’s - in November following the Panorama sting on the Tory incumbent Patrick Mercer. He was unavailable for comment today.
Doing media in the town centre however was Labour’s Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor. The party won the seat in 1997 but the following year the winning candidate Fiona Jones became the first MP for 115 years to be excluded from the House of Commons due to electoral fraud – a conviction that was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Mr Payne said he was unconcerned by Ukip’s calculations. “It makes no difference to me whether Farage stands or the deputy leader. The simple point is the policies remain the same,” he said.
But the Farage phenomenon was not playing well with everyone. Angela Ptaszynska, 26, had moved with her family from Lodz in central Poland eight years ago. She now ran her own business and her partner worked in a factory.
“I don’t know him [Farage] actually. I don’t watch English TV,” she said. Although she regarded Newark people as “very nice” she could sense change. “It worries me a little bit. I am worried about how it will be in the future - especially for my son.”