UKIP's Nigel Farage says he will not stand in Newark poll

Nigel Farage said that it was more important to focus on the European elections

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said he will not stand in the forthcoming Newark by-election.

The contest has been brought about by Tuesday's resignation from Parliament of former Tory MP Patrick Mercer over a cash-for-questions scandal.

Mr Farage said he did not want to look like an "opportunist" by entering the contest, as he did not "have any links with the East Midlands".

He added that he wanted to focus on UKIP's European elections campaign.

Although the Conservatives have a majority of 16,000 in Newark, UKIP is currently doing well in opinion polls.

But John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said UKIP would be "trying to succeed on the back of no particular local support at all".

'Courage'

Mr Farage told BBC One's Breakfast: "I haven't had long to think about it but I have thought about it, and we're just over three weeks away from a European election at which I think UKIP could cause an earthquake in British politics, from which we can go on and win not just one parliamentary seat but quite a lot of parliamentary seats.

"For that reason I don't want to do anything that deflects from the European election campaign, so I'm not going to stand in this by-election.

Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer announced last year he would not contest the next general election

"I want to focus the next three weeks on winning the European elections and also I don't have any links with the East Midlands. I would just look like an opportunist, and I don't think that would work."

Asked whether he had decided not to run for fear of losing, Mr Farage replied: "I have shown some courage over the years…

"It's about choosing the right battles. It's about prioritising and I know that if I were to have said yes to standing in Newark the next three weeks would be dominated by am I going to win, am I not going to win, and we wouldn't be talking about open-door immigration, EU membership and that most of our laws being made somewhere else."

'Not an idiot'

Mr Farage referred to the former leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, once a fixture at such contests, saying: "I'm not Screaming Lord Sutch. I don't stand in every by-election."

Ken Clarke, seen as the most Europhile of the Conservative members of the cabinet, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Farage had been right to decide not to run, saying: "I am not really surprised. Whatever else Nigel is, he is not an idiot, and I don't think he'd have the faintest chance of winning in Newark."

He accused UKIP, which advocates leaving the European Union, of "peddling a total nonsense that our economic problems have been caused by immigration".

Robert and Michelle Jenrick Robert Jenrick, pictured with his wife Michelle, has been selected to contest Newark for the Conservatives

Mr Clarke, who is a Nottinghamshire MP, said: "I don't think the residents of Newark, some of whom I know because I used to represent some of the villages there, they're not going to vote for a card, larking about, trying to get protest votes."

For the Liberal Democrats, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: "Nigel Farage is clearly frightened to put himself forward to try and actually get a seat in the UK Parliament.

"He's very happily heckling from the sidelines doing his thing in the European Parliament ,and I think many people will look at this and say it's not really that impressive."

Mr Mercer, who has represented the Nottinghamshire constituency since 2001, is due to be suspended from the Commons for six months for allegedly asking questions in Parliament in return for money.

Secret filming shows Patrick Mercer signing a contract with the fake lobbying company set up by BBC Panorama

He was filmed by undercover reporters from the BBC's Panorama last year apparently agreeing to set up a parliamentary group to push for Fiji to return to the Commonwealth.

The MP had already said he would not contest the general election next year, having served as an independent since May 2013.

'Heaviness of heart'

In a short statement, the former soldier said he would not contest the findings of a report into his conduct, to be published on Thursday, which will call for him to be barred from Parliament for six months.

He said he was resigning with "a great heaviness of heart" for the sake of his family, adding: "I am an ex-soldier, I believe that when you have got something wrong, you have got to 'fess up and get on with it."

The MP, a prominent critic of David Cameron, who sacked him as a shadow minister in 2007, said he hoped his successor would be a Conservative.

The party has selected Robert Jenrick to contest Newark. Labour - which held the seat between 1997 and 2001 - has chosen Michael Payne as its candidate. The Liberal Democrats have yet to make a selection.

At the 2010 general election, Mr Mercer won 27,590 votes. Labour came second with 11,438 votes, the Lib Dems third with 10,246 and UKIP fourth with 1,954.

Meanwhile, an ITV/ComRes poll suggests that, of people who insist they will definitely vote in the European elections, 38% say they will back UKIP.

The survey puts Labour in second place on 27%, the Conservatives third on 18% and the Lib Dems fourth on 8%.

ComRes interviewed 2,052 British adults between 25 and 27 April.

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  55.  
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  56.  
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  57.  
    15:20: Good afternoon

    Change of team here on the Politics Live page - please stay with us for the latest events and comments about the general election. There'll be more on Labour's announcement to cut tuition fees if they came to power. In Wales, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been setting out proposals for further devolution. And still to come this afternoon - a speech by UKIP leader Nigel Farage at the party's spring conference in Margate - plus we'll be tuning in to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 later this evening.

     
  58.  
    15:14: More reaction to tuition fees

    Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said in a statement: "One big outstanding question is how many university places will be available once the new rules come in. The coalition are letting universities recruit as many students as they want." He said there was a "trade-off between the cost to the taxpayer of higher fees and the number of places that can be funded" and added that it was good that voters now had a clear policy choice before them.

     
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    15:11: In the Lords
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  60.  
    14:54: Tuition fee policy 'fiscally neutral'
    Paul Johnson

    Paul Johnson director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that "as far as we can tell [Labour's] package is fiscally neutral". He said universities under this policy would be more dependent on the taxpayer and less dependent on the fees that students are paying. As a result, he said, they would feel "a little bit more worried about future funding than they were before under the £9,000 fee system".

     
  61.  
    14:42: Recap on UKIP conference
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  62.  
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  63.  
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  64.  
    13:43: 'Stable funding'
    Students in lecture theatre

    Universities have welcomed Labour's pledge to increase maintenance support for students from low and middle income households and its pledge that the loss of income from lower tuition fees will be fully covered. "It will go some way to help reassure universities that a future Labour government would continue to provide a stable funding environment in the next parliament," says Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK.

     
  65.  
    @carolewalkercw 13:32: Carole Walker, BBC political correspondent

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  66.  
    13:31: 'Personal thing' The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Labour's Chuka Umunna dismisses Vince Cable's criticism of its tuition fee policy, suggesting the Lib Dems have "no credibility" on the issue. He says Ed Miliband's desire to reverse "the assault on young people" that Labour maintains has taken place since 2010 was a "very personal thing". There was, he added, a "very substantial difference" between the parties' policies on higher education and other issues which he believed young people would take notice of before casting their vote on 7 May.

     
  67.  
    13:30: Boris on control orders 'mistake'
    Boris Johnson

    Mayor of London Boris Johnson, speaking on the subject of terrorism, said it had been an error to water down control orders that permitted the home secretary to restrict individuals' liberty on grounds of national security: "I do think that was a mistake. We're now back on the right track. The politicians who made that mistake need to think very carefully about why they did it and I think the benefit of the doubt was given too much to those who wish us serious harm. This whole thing needs to be tackled very robustly."

     
  68.  
    13:28: The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Vince Cable has labelled Labour's tuition fees policy "fraudulent", claiming there is no guarantee that the money from the pension tax changes will go to universities and instead is likely to be "pocketed by the Treasury" and used to reduce the deficit. Appearing on the World at One, the Lib Dem business secretary also admits that his party has "suffered politically" for its broken pledge not to let fees rise.

     
  69.  
    13:18: NUS 'writ large' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    On the Daily Politics, Harry Cole of the Guido Fawkes blog says Labour's announcement on fees is "the politics of the National Union of Students on a national scale".

     
  70.  
    13:17: No 'generational war' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Chuka Umunna

    Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna says it is a mistake for people to cast Labour's decision to pay for a cut in tuition fees by curbing some pension relief as some sort of "generational war". He tells Andrew Neil that a lot of older people are as concerned about university funding as are people about to embark on higher education.

     
  71.  
    13:16: The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Paul Johnson, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, tells the BBC's World at One that Labour's plan to fund the tuition fee cut "broadly adds up". However, he says that curbing pension tax relief for the highest earners effectively amounts to a £3bn tax increase and could have an impact on people seeking to save for their retirement.

     
  72.  
    13:14: 'Party of Wales'
    David Cameron speaking to the Welsh Conservative conference

    A couple of hours ago, David Cameron was speaking in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, with Nick Clegg standing beside him. The prime minister is still in Wales but Mr Clegg is no-where to be seen as Mr Cameron has moved onto the home territory of the Welsh Conservatives' spring conference. He told activists that the Conservatives are "the party of Wales", claiming they have done more to attract investment, create jobs and boost transport infrastructure over the past five years than Labour.

     
  73.  
    @Kevin_Maguire 13:03: Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    tweets: Which bit of Clegg's brain told him posing in Wales with Cameron would be good for Lib Dems? #yellowtories

     
  74.  
    13:02: 'Not for turning'

    Ed Miliband finishes his Q&A in Leeds by promising his audience: "We're not going to do a Nick Clegg - we are deadly serious about this."

     
  75.  
    12:57: Labour's 'sums don't add up'
    George Osborne

    The Chancellor George Osborne has responded to Labour's announcement on fees by saying: "Under this government, we've made real progress in getting students from poorer background to go to universities - something governments have been trying to do for decades. All of that progress would be at risk from this ill-thought out policy. Ed Miliband's sums don't add up because the universities would get less money and there would be fewer students so it's bad for students, bad for universities, bad for the taxpayer and bad for the British economy."

     
  76.  
    12:56: 'Informed decisions'

    More reaction to Labour's plans. Manufacturers' organisation, the EEF, says there is "no evidence" that the current system needs to be overhauled, pointing out that the number of people applying for engineering degrees rose by 8% between 2010 and 2013. Raising fees, it suggests, has helped people make "more informed decisions about their careers and employability". The Association of Colleges, meanwhile, has called for more focus and resources for those not going to university.

     
  77.  
    12:43: Fees pledge 'cast-iron'

    Ed Miliband says a reduction in fees is a cast-iron guarantee, and will be a "red line" in potential coalition negotiations after May's election.

     
  78.  
    12:42: Fee cut is 'bad policy'
    University graduates

    The free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, has criticised Labour plans, saying they will make universities "more dependent on the public purse". "This is a bad policy at a time when reductions in government spending are still necessary and will lead to yet more government interference in how universities are run," says its director Mark Littlewood. The IEA is also critical of the current system introduced by the coalition and wants it replaced by a graduate tax.

     
  79.  
    12:37: Fee cuts - implementation

    Ed Miliband says the tuition fee cut will apply from September 2016 - and promises that even if a student started a course before then, the £6000 fee will apply for his or her remaining years.

     
  80.  
    12:36: 'Investment in young people'
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband is now taking questions from students and the media. Asked about the rhetoric around charging money for higher education, he says: "There is a big disagreement here between those who believe there's a public interest in public investment in young people and our universities, and those who think it's just a matter of consumer choice for our young people". He says it's "absolute nonsense to say this is only about young people", as the whole country has an interest in young people unburdened with debt.

     
  81.  
    12:28: Fiscal 'responsibility'

    Ed Balls says the plan is "not only fair to students, fair to young people, and fair to taxpayers", but is "also an example of Labour assuming fiscal responsibility in the national interest". The proposal would strengthen the public finances, he says, as opposed to plans from opposing parties which would weaken the UK's bank balance.

     
  82.  
    12:25: Balls: Plans 'fully costed'
    Ed Balls

    Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is now speaking, fleshing out more of the details. He says Labour's plans are "fully costed and fully funded", and that Labour are not making a promise they can't keep. The plans will reduce the UK's debt by £40bn by 2030, he claims.

     
  83.  
    12:24: Pension tax relief curbed

    Mr Miliband says he will pay for the cut in tuition fees by reducing the tax relief on pension contributions for the highest-earners. Those earning more than £150,000 a year will get the same relief as basic-rate taxpayers in future, rather than the 45% they enjoy at the moment.

     
  84.  
    12:22: Maintenance grant increase

    Ed Miliband says part of Labour's goal is "to make it easier for students of all backgrounds" to attend university - and to that end, students from families with an income of less than £42,000 will receive an extra £400 in their maintenance grant every year.

     
  85.  
    12:22: Tuition fee cut
    Labour audience on their feet

    Ed Miliband promises that a Labour government will cut tuition fees by a third, from £9000 to £6000 from September 2016. He says "we will not make the young pay the price of hard times" - and vows to "restore the promise of Britain".

     
  86.  
    12:17: 'A burden on our country'

    Ed Miliband says the current tuition fees system is leading to "more debt for students and more debt for the taxpayer", with an estimated £16bn more than predicted to be added to the public debt by 2020. He says that "if left unchanged, the whole system will have added £281bn of debt by 2030". The Labour leader says "the scourge of debt from tuition fees is not only holding back our young people, it is a burden on our country".

     
  87.  
    12:14: 'Broken promises'

    Ed Miliband says all young people have heard from the government in the last few years is "blame, denial, and broken promises". He says no-one in his generation - which is also Nick Clegg's and David Cameron's - had to start life after university with more than an average of £44,000 in debt.

     
  88.  
    12:10: Miliband's 'Promise for Britain'
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband has taken to the stage in Leeds to talk about his party's policies on tuition fees going into the general election. He was introduced by the recently-elected president of Leicester University Students Union, who says this government has betrayed her generation.

     
  89.  
    12:05: More from Carwyn Jones

    The first minister adds: "The move towards a funding floor is an important step forward and we have been pushing for this for some time. But we cannot be confident that funding for Wales has been put on a fair and sustainable footing until the detail is agreed at the next spending review. This is disappointing and should also be seen in the context of an unprecedented £1.5bn cut to the Welsh budget in this term. We will now consider the details of the proposals ahead of a full response to the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday."

     
  90.  
    12:04: Carwyn Jones on Welsh offer
    Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones

    Responding to the the government's announcement today, First Minister Carwyn Jones - a Labour politician - said: "The proposals only go some of the way to matching Labour's devolution offer already set out by Ed Miliband, but they fall short in crucial areas - such as on policing." He claims "Wales is still not being treated with the same respect as that being afforded to Scotland and this continuing imbalanced approach is damaging to the UK".

     
  91.  
    @elashton 12:02: Emily Ashton, Buzzfeed senior political correspondent

    tweets: No 10 was asked if Cameron would be sorry to see "a bullet between Emwazi's eyes": "The PM wants to see the murderers brought to justice."

     
  92.  
    11:54: A 'full house'
    Mark Reckless

    Mark Reckless tells the BBC's Vicki Young that Nigel Farage will be speaking to a "very full room" at the UKIP spring conference today. Less than 24 hours ago, the UKIP leader was listened to by a rather threadbare audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US state of Maryland.

     
  93.  
    11:51: Time for a fruitcake?
    Cake for sale at UKIP conference

    UKIP activists are taking a quick coffee break in Margate - and are being encouraged to visit the stalls in the Winter Gardens venue, where fruitcake is among the items available for purchase.

     
  94.  
    11:50: CBI on 'devolution risk'

    The CBI has said a referendum must be held before powers over income tax are devolved to the Welsh Assembly. Reacting to the government's proposals, the business group says any transfer of powers must be done in a "careful, considered and transparent manner". "For the Welsh economy to prosper there has to be a renewed commitment from all politicians to deliver a devolution dividend not a devolution risk premium," said Chris Sutton, chair of CBI Wales.

     
  95.  
    11:39: Still friends?
    Nick Clegg and David Cameron

    Do Dave and Nick still like each other nearly five years on from those chummy scenes in the Downing Street rose garden at the birth of the coalition? That was the question to the pair as they staged what might well be their final public appearance together in Cardiff. Well, as our picture below shows, they can still enjoy a laugh together. Mr Cameron said they had had their differences and arguments but had worked together to deliver "bold and brave" policies. Mr Clegg was equally diplomatic, saying they had proved coalitions can work and a "novel way of governing has done exceptional things in exceptional circumstances". They would save the gripes about each other's personalities for the election campaign, joked Mr Cameron.

    David Cameron and Nick Clegg
     
  96.  
    11:27: 'Number one priority'

    The prime minister says he will not discuss specific threats to the UK, but insists it is his "number one priority" that "when there are people anywhere in the world who commit appalling and heinous crimes against British citizens, we will do every we can with the police, with the security services, with all we have at our disposal to find these people and put them out of action".

     
  97.  
    11:23: Breaking News

    David Cameron has reacted to the naming of the man previously known only as 'Jihadi John' as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Briton from west London. He says he thinks it is important for the public to "get behind" the security services, adding that "even in the last few months their dedication and work has saved us from plots on the streets of the United Kingdom that could have done immense damage".

     
  98.  
    11:16: Cheeky stunt
    Dancers promoting the musical The Producers in Margate

    A Nazi-themed troupe of dancers and a World War Two tank gate crashed the start of UKIP's spring conference in Margate earlier. The seven-strong group were promoting a production of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, which opens in Bromley, in South London, next month.

     
  99.  
    11:14: Income tax for Wales?

    David Cameron says he is a "double-yes man": he thinks Wales does need a referendum on whether or not it should set its own income tax - and if it happens he will be advising people in Wales to vote in favour of having such powers. Nick Clegg says there is a consensus across government - and the coalition parties - that there are no reasons not to hold such a referendum.

     
  100.  
    11:12: 'Devolution with a purpose'

    David Cameron says "both of Wales's governments can do all they can within their powers to make Wales prosper for decades to come", describing the settlement announced today as "devolution with a purpose". Nick Clegg says it is "truly a deal worth celebrating", taking Wales "another step towards home rule for Wales and a stronger, fairer Britain". For the detail on what the government has announced today, have a look at the main BBC News story here.

     

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