|Reckless (Above) has been mercilessly targeted by the Tories|
The Rochester and Strood by-election will be held on the 16th of November. Already, it is shaping up to be one of the most bitterly fought by-elections since Crewe and Nantwich. That time, the Labour Party defeat in Crewe confirmed what many people already knew, that the Labour Party was in terminal decline and was on the way to losing the 2010 General Election. This by-election could be as much a watershed for the Tories as Crewe and Nantwich was for the Labour Party. A Tory defeat here would mean that the party would, almost certainly, lose the next General Election. A Tory win, however, would be the so-called "Falklands moment" that the Tory Party has been waiting for, and would lead to a strong Tory surge as UKIP inevitably collapsed. This by-election is also important for Labour, but in a different way, and not as much as it is for UKIP and the Tories.
Why is this by-election so important? Firstly, we should look at the facts.In the Con-Lab marginals, Labour has a significant lead, primarily because of UKIP. A large % of UKIP voters currently say that they are open to switching back to the Tories. However, the main reason that they are not switching back to the Tories is because they feel that a vote for UKIP is not a wasted vote. This perception is the major problem that the Tories have in trying to convince UKIP voters to switch back to them for the General Election. The perception that a vote for UKIP actually counts will have grown, almost certainly as a result of the Douglas Carswell landslide in Clacton. This is the perception that the Tories have a chance to destroy, and with it destroy UKIP, once and for all, by beating them in Rochester. As can be seen by the deeply bitter campaign that is being fought, both sides are determined not to lose. My contacts in the area have told me that Labour households in particular have been bombarded with leaflets attacking Reckless and his character, as an attempt to get tactical votes from Labour and former Lib Dem voters against Reckless.
Now, you can see what is at stake for both the Tories and UKIP. Basically, if the Tory Party wins, the UKIP voters are going to feel that voting for UKIP is no longer worthwhile, and many are going to switch back to the Conservatives. This would lead to a Tory surge, which I have nicknamed the "Falklands surge", and, surely, if they managed to depress the UKIP vote in this way, they must be favourites to win the 2015 General Election. If UKIP win, however, and constituency polling conducted before the Tories selected a candidate showed them with a 9% lead, so they obviously have a good chance, then the Con-UKIP switchers are probably going to remain with UKIP, and the General Election will have been lost for the Conservatives. It is no wonder that David Cameron has visited the constituency 4 times already, and the Tories have been using an all-postal primary to select their candidate. There is talk of a leadership challenge to David Cameron from the Eurosceptic Right of his party if the Tories lose the by-election. For Labour, the emphasis surely has to be on putting in a good performance. If Labour manage to acheive something like 20-25% of the vote in Rochester, it will be a good result, as it will show that the party still has a loyal following amongst White Working Class voters, and may stem the flow of traditional Labour voters defecting to UKIP.
It is clear that neither party can afford defeat in this by-election. But, there is only going to be one winner, at the end of the day. We will find out in the early hours of the 17th whether UKIP have pulled off another spectacular win, or if the Tories can stop UKIP in its tracks.