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Cameron Woos Mrs Rochester

Last Updated: Friday, October 17th, 2014

“There’s no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.” So wrote David Cameron in a letter sent this week to every voter in Rochester and Strood, where the next UKIP-engineered by-election is to take place towards the end of November.  At the end of it, he made the point again – just in case readers had missed it: “no stunts, just a strong local candidate you can trust”.

What did he mean by this? The references to “trust” and “strong” were clear: Mark Reckless, the former Conservative MP whose defection to UKIP forced the by-election, isn’t to be trusted.  So, pretty much, was the allusion to “local”: the implication is that Reckless doesn’t have strong roots in the constituency, though he contested the seat’s Medway predecessor not only in the 2005 election but in the 2001 poll which preceded it.

However, Reckless is believed by Downing Street and Conservative Campaign Headquarters to be a less user-friendly figure than his friend Douglas Carwell has proved in Clacton, especially among almost half the voters in the seat – potentially and particularly.  These voters have a problem with UKIP that David Cameron, Lynton Crosby and Grant Shapps hope to exploit during the long, long run up to the vote itself on November 20.

They are the women of Rochester and Strood.  Now, the Tories themselves are believed to have a problem with women voters – hence, in part, Theresa May’s support for rape centres, Nicky Morgan’s trumpeting of a rise in women sitting on boards and setting up small firms, and William Hague’s campaigning against rape as a weapon of war.  (Lord Ashcroft has argued that Conservative and Labour poll ratings among women are actually much the same as those among men, citing evidence from YouGov as well as his own research.)

However, UKIP’s difficulties with women voters are undoubtedly real.  Godfrey Bloom, the MEP who joked that
a “women in politics” meeting was “full of sluts” who do not clean behind their fridges has since left the party’s group in the European Parliament.  But the remark pointed to a tone and feel about the party that is unmistakable: that it is relatively elderly and markedly male – among its leadership cohort, at least.

There are exceptions, such as Diane James, the party’s candidate in the Eastleigh by-election and now a member of Nigel Farage’s “Shadow Cabinet”.  But the UKIP leader himself admitted recently that his blokeish, pint-drinkish, pub-dwelling persona has helped to give the party the feel of “a rugby club on a day out”.  An Ashcroft survey of Rochester and Strood found that UKIP has the support of only 21 per cent of women in the constituency.

The Conservative push there thus won’t rely alone on CCHQ’s campaigning machine, which is in good shape under Shapps and Crosby.  Nor will it be dependent on mud being flung in the general direction of Reckless, though some will doubtless be hurled: unlike Carswell, he is not particularly popular with his former colleagues; unlike him again, he timed his defection in such a way as to inflict the maximum damage from it; unlike him, too, he misled them about his intentions.

What will also mark the Tory campaign out is its concentration on women.  The two candidates who are being put before the seat’s voters in an postal primary are both women, both councillors and both local (up to a point: one of them, Anna Firth, sits on nearby Sevenoaks Council).  The Conservatives hope to out-populist UKIP by deploring the victor in the seat-wide ballot as a people’s champion.

“No stunts,” wrote Cameron. But although the postal primary is commendably open, the original selection of these two women was not.  It was a tightly controlled exercise.  Number Ten knows just how crucial this contest is.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Paul Goodman: Osborne should cut National Insurance for poorer workers
The ConservativeHome manifesto called for “tax cuts to be focused on those taxes that do most to ‘gum up the works’ of the economy – especially those that get in the way of homes, jobs and savings for ordinary working people”. We listed Stamp Duty…and employees’ and employers’ National Insurance Contributions.  This year’s Autumn Statement and next year’s budget would give Osborne an opportunity to act, since action speaks louder than manifesto pledges to a cynical electorate.  Workers on the minimum wage should pay no NICS at all.  And employers should get an NIC cut to balance any increase in it.  This would be good for poorer workers, employers, the economy, and the Party’s electoral prospects – especially in those Midlands and Northern marginals.”  Here is an end for the Chancellor to work towards. Read more: http://bit.ly/1yGjY5R

Lord Ashcroft: A five per cent swing to Labour in my latest battleground polling
“My research so far shows no net advantage to the Conservatives on the Lib Dem battleground: we have identified eight Lib Dem seats in which the Tories are currently ahead, but another eight in which on current polling the Lib Dems would lose to Labour. To make matters worse for the Tories, my research also puts UKIP ahead in two of their seats, in addition to the one already lost in Clacton. If that situation persists, the Conservatives can afford to lose no more than 21 seats to Labour at the general election if they are to remain the largest party. Unfortunately for them, we have already identified 29 seats currently held by the Conservatives that would fall to Labour if my poll results were repeated at an election. In other words, Labour would become the largest party if results in the seats I have already polled turned into results on election day – and there could well be more to come: while my polling has moved into seats with bigger Tory majorities I have not yet come to the “bite point” at which the potential losses end and Conservative seats consistently start to stay blue.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1ryqgvx

Mark Wallace: Pinning Down Farage – What is UKIP’s economic policy?   “As their newfound attachment to protectionism, taxing business and opposing the so-called “bedroom tax” suggests, the pursuit of votes at the expense of principles has seen UKIP shift leftward in recent weeks. They have chosen to chase Labour votes, and at the same time have picked up a large chunk of new members who are left-leaning – two factors that combine to drive the creation of what has been termed Red UKIP. In a way, it’s an extension of their commitment to the LibDem playbook – a smaller party can maximise its chances by posing as all things to all people. Perhaps that’s how it started – saying left-wing things (promising to protect benefits in the Wythenshawe by-election, for example) but reverting to Farage’s centre right economic stances on the national stage. But now left wing economics and rhetoric are gaining a real foothold at the top of the party.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1o8BsEn

Jon Cruddas:  “For Scruton, conservatism is a philosophy of attachment. But in life nothing stays attached forever, and so inevitably conservatism is a politics about loss. It is a kind of pragmatic rearguard action to preserve and protect what it considers to be social and human value. It retreats, makes a stand, retreats, holds its ground, retreats. Can there be a settled life when everyone and everything is in motion? It is a question that also goes to the heart of socialism. The politics of socialism is about self-determination. It is a philosophy of human action based in relationships and subject to reciprocity – the give and take which establishes a sense of justice. Its conservative instinct raises the question of equality because each individual is irreplaceable in our mutual dependence. Equality of worth is the ethical core of justice. It is the necessary condition for social freedom which is the basis of a settled life. Edmund Burke describes it as “that state of things in which liberty is secured by equality of restraint”. In the past, we called it fraternity.” Read more: http://bit.ly/ZDatoS

Alexander Temerko: Conventional gas. Interconnectors. More nuclear. How to join the UK energy security dots  “The important lesson to learn from our European neighbours, and indeed from the US, is that security and stable prices are best achieved by concentrating on one or two areas and doing them well. Shale gas production in the US has grown rapidly since 2005, and now accounts for two thirds of its natural gas. In France, the predominance of nuclear dates right back to the 1973 oil crisis. Germany, through a huge programme of public spending, has pulled off a remarkable revolution in renewables. Italy, where nuclear power is banned, has focused on gas. The UK, too, must focus on conventional gas and, alongside it, new nuclear capacity and a reorientation of policy towards interconnectors as the only feasible strategy for mitigating rising prices while meeting emissions targets. That’s not to say there isn’t room for shale or renewables; these industries have a role to play provided they are subject to the same tax and regulation as the rest of the energy sector. If on a level playing field such operations are commercially viable, then they are a welcome addition to a diverse energy mix, but to cosset industries that cannot possibly replace coal as the primary source of power generation is a waste of time and money – and both of those are in short supply.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1CfZGgY

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