Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, the pivotal moment at which the tide was turned in the Second World War in the Allies favour. The Conservative Party will be quietly rejoicing that this important day of commemoration wasn’t overshadowed by another headline; that of UKIP gaining its first Parliamentary seat at their expense. If it had been so, today would have been a pivotal moment in the shaping of British politics. And perhaps it still is, albeit for more subtle reasons.

UKIP are riding as high as they’ve ever been in national polling, and if they could have won in Newark – one of the safest Conservative seats in the country – they’d show that they could have the potential to win anywhere.

It’s often claimed that governing parties seldom perform well in by-elections as the electorate take it as a mid-term opportunity to register their protest. Indeed, the Conservatives’ victory in Newark is their first by-election win whilst being in government for 25 years.

Given the importance of where we now are in the electoral cycle, some might question the wisdom of the Labour machine continuing to be so notably absent from the UKIP fight. 

It’s this powerful factor, which has seen governments lose otherwise safe seats in the past (like Labour’s loss of a 16 per cent majority to the Tories in the Crew & Nantwich by-election of 2008), which so worried the Conservatives about the “UKIP earthquake” being further exacerbated in yesterday’s vote.

Despite a drop in support of 9 per cent and a UKIP gain of 22 points, the Conservatives have awoken a 19 per cent lead in Newark. The headline this morning, as short-lived as the non-story that it was, spoke of a comfortable Tory victory with a strong UKIP showing still failing to realistically threaten the seat. The full results, for context, are noted at the bottom of this piece, but what’s interesting here is that the Labour and Liberal Democrat vote collectively fell a whopping 22 per cent.

This owed significantly to a meagre Liberal Democrat performance, which saw the party fail to meet the vote-share threshold that allows them to keep their deposit. But given the party’s recent poor performance at the local and EU elections, this embarrassment was hardly unforeseen.

Aside from the collapse of the Lib Dems, already much commented on, there is instead the need to shine the spotlight on the rather strange performance of Labour.

We have to remember that nationally, the Labour Party achieved its lowest ever score at the last General Election, obtaining under 30 per cent of all votes cast. From such a low base and with the Party now boisterously waiting in the populist wings of opposition, there is every reason to say that this 2010 result should have been a rock bottom from which they couldn’t go any lower. And yet they did – losing a further 5 per cent of their vote on 2010 and coming third behind UKIP.

Labourites would claim that Newark was never winnable, except it was – with the party winning a 6 per cent majority over the Tories in the Labour landslide of 1997.

Granted, the Conservative lead over Labour had reasserted itself to 31 per cent by 2010, but with the total collapse of Nick Clegg’s party and Labour starting from such an unprecedentedly deflated position, the contrast between their past victory with 45% of the vote in 1997 and their showing this week is stark.

There is already much talk of Labour not demonstrating the results it needs a year out from a General Election to fulfil its objective of an overall majority in May 2015, and this outcome continues to compound that new consensus. It’s certainly true that the Tories threw every resource that they had at keeping Newark, but in a by-election which should be considered a strategic opportunity to any serious opposition party, Labour lacked any sign of ambition and paid for it accordingly.

Given the importance of where we now are in the electoral cycle, some might question the wisdom of the Labour machine continuing to be so notably absent from the UKIP fight.

Newark By-Election 2014 Results: CON 45% (-8.9%), UKIP 25.9% (+22.1), LAB 17.7% (-4.7), LDEMS 2.6% (-17.4)