The Rochester and Strood by-election already seems like a long time ago. While the news agenda has rapidly moved on from UKIP’s victory, local Conservatives in the constituency will this week no doubt be picking up the pieces after election defeat.
Conservative activists from all over the country were motivated to travel to Kent and campaign in the by-election by the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP. Winning back the seat in May next year is a strong possibility and would be sweet revenge indeed against a man many feel has behaved in a rather shabby fashion.
Here’s five things that Rochester and Strood Conservatives could do next.
1. Re-select Kelly Tolhurst
A crucial factor in the by-election was the incumbency factor for Mark Reckless. Although not as well-liked in his constituency as previous defector Douglas Carswell is in Clacton, UKIP nonetheless benefited hugely from his name recognition and profile. Tory efforts to counter this in the form of an open primary were not unhelpful but were stopped from providing maximum value due to the short turnaround the by-election demanded. Just 7% of voters took part in the all-postal ballot of the entire constituency.
The winner of that open primary, Kelly Tolhurst, not only has strong roots in the constituency but has now benefited from the huge profile boost that being a by-election candidate provides. Given that early opinion polls had put UKIP 12 points ahead, the 2,920 vote gap does seem such a bad result. An opinion poll from Lord Ashcroft during the campaign even put the Conservatives favourites to win back the seat in May. Calling an Executive Council meeting and re-selecting Kelly Tolhurst will provide the best chance of making this a reality.
2. Collect by-election data
By-elections, especially Parliamentary by-elections, can be chaotic events. In the fevered frenzy of the campaign, it seems the election hangs in the balance every day and everything, yes EVERYTHING is a top priority. A typo in the latest leaflet is a disaster, that postal vote form you forgot to get in before the deadline is a tragedy and if only (if only!) we had managed to get a poster up at that fairly busy roundabout.
The Monday after the election there can be a pile of canvass sheets worth their weight in gold sitting in the office and records of households displaying opposition posters, but it can all go in the bin because your head hurts from a campaign hangover and losing the election has left you feeling like shit.
I went to campaign in the by-election on three occasions, from both Conservative offices, and found things exceptionally well organised. On the occasions I delivered leaflets I would take note of households displaying opposition posters and report back, which was recorded. My hunch therefore is that the data collected in the campaign is sizable, accurate and waiting to be put to good use.
Post-election periods usually see mountains worth of crucial data lost. Scoop it up and come back to it in two weeks. It’s invaluable.
3. Purchase the Marked Register
When you go into a Polling Station to vote, the Polling Clerk asks for your name and address and marks you off on the Electoral Register as having voted. Political parties can purchase copies of this, which is called the Marked Register. The Marked Register is most valuable when turnout is lowest because it identifies voters who always vote. This is by far the most important information political parties can buy.
4. Get out knocking on doors
It’s good to get out and canvass after an election, focusing on those who voted but for whom you don’t have any voting intention data. As much as it may seem residents will be sick of hearing from politicians after the onslaught of a by-election, in fact getting out and solving problems in the area when there isn't an election due imminently is very important. It also makes a good impression on voters that you're doing this while the other 12 candidates who stood in the by-election are not.
5. Sign up supporters on postal votes
Again using the Marked Register, target known supporters who didn’t vote with a postal vote recruitment campaign.
You can guarantee that the constituency will be one to watch on election night next May. With just over 23 weeks to go, there is no time to lose.
 I was confused by this story in the Independent about Conservative MPs not spending a long time campaigning on their visits to Rochester. It seems like one of those instances where the journalists had written the story before they arrived. By poking fun at the fact most MPs spent less than two hours campaigning on each occasion, I think they just showed they've not done much campaigning. When you turn up to a well organised campaign office, you're given a delivery route that should take between an hour to 90 minutes. Why all the fuss over people not staying more than two hours? Many hands make light work and there was plenty of help available.
Possible attempts to oust Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party are making front page news this morning. Yesterday the BBC reported that two Labour MPs had written to the chairman of the parliamentary party expressing their view that Mr Miliband should stand down. From this spark the so-called “Bonfire Night plot to oust Ed” has been ignited.
Will Ed Miliband still be the leader of the Labour Party come May’s general election? Here’s 10 reasons why he will be.
1. Labour Party leadership rules make it impossible to force out a leader
The Daily Mail rightly points out that party rules say that to force out the leader, a vote of no-confidence has to be called – and the only way for that to happen is a card vote at the party’s annual conference. No such move was made at the last Labour conference six weeks ago in Manchester and none is scheduled before May’s election. The only way Miliband could be made to walk is if he’s pushed hard enough…
2. The men in grey suits are either quiet or backing Miliband
Harold Wilson’s former press secretary, Joe Haines, has written for the Telegraph today arguing that senior figures should privately meet with Miliband and ask him to go. “David Blunkett, Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Alan Milburn and others could form, in Labour jargon, a collective to do what the men in grey suits traditionally did when a leader lost the confidence of his party – and advise him to go quietly.” Two problems here. One is that the first man named in that list, David Blunkett, told the Guardian yesterday that Labour MPs’ attacks on Ed were “political insanity”. Second problem is that this list omits the most senior figure in the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, who it is hard to imagine would line up against such a trusted friend given the years Ed spent working for him in the Treasury.
3. The Labour Party has a poor history when it comes to defenestrating leaders
Talking of Gordon Brown, Guido pointed out this week that Ed Miliband is now less popular than Gordon Brown was at this point in the last electoral cycle. And yet the woefully mismanaged attempts to shove Brown out of the window before the general election proved that Labour MPs just don’t have it in them. Hoon and Hewitt walked, then Purnell… then it fell flat. Top party figures lined up to support the PM; Ed Miliband, Jack Straw, Tony McNulty, Alan Johnson…
4. Alan Johnson won’t challenge Ed. There is no credible rival worth ditching him for.
Alan Johnson seems to have ruled himself out of more leadership contests than any other living MP. As Matthew Norman in the Independent brilliantly put it, “When Labour comes calling in a fit of pre-election panic, the postman always wrings his hands twice and tells it to sod off.” Without Johnson’s hat in the ring, it’s a lightweight offering from others. Andy Burnham, despite his well-received conference speech, has an absolutely toxic record on the NHS – a key election theme for Labour. Yvette Cooper? Really?
5. Cause without a rebel leader
As the Joe Haines article mentions today, “The leadership hopefuls of the younger members stay their hand because ‘Brutus never succeeds’”. Every rebellion needs a leader and if the potential leadership hopefuls are not prepared to get their hands dirty, it’s difficult to see who will take command to oversee the necessary manoeuvrings.
6. Constituency boundaries mean Labour can do badly, yet do well
The average of recent opinion polls has Labour on 33%, Conservatives on 32%. And yet because of the way constituency boundaries are set, Labour has an in-built advantage that means 33% of the vote would give it 50% of the seats in Parliament. Meanwhile the Conservatives, on 32% of the vote, would get 42% of seats. Indeed, this morning’s UK Polling Report projection states even on these dire opinion polls, Labour would be the largest party (and just one short of a majority).
7. Polling in marginals looks good
The Conservative peer and psephologist Lord Ashcroft has been conducting polls of key Conservative-Labour marginals using very impressive samples sizes. The results showed that of the 23 key marginal polled, 18 would be switching from blue to red. If Labour are on course to take seats away from Conservative incumbents, Labour MPs should feel more secure in holding their seats.
8. The Unions back Ed
The Union vote saw Ed Miliband elected as Labour leader, with Neil Kinnock happily declaring “we’ve got our party back”. Miliband is the Unions' man. With that support, it’s very difficult to see Ed being decapitated.
9. The Conservatives back Ed
Framing the general election as the choice about who Britain wants as its Prime Minister is an essential part of the Conservative message (happy to say I called that one in February 2013). The Conservatives will be desperate to make sure no-one from the Government or backbenches does anything to inrease the pressure on Miliband until we’ve reached the start of the Long Campaign period in January.
10. Miliband has more steel than people give him credit for
The Awkward One. Weirdo. Wallace (without Gromit). However people like to characterise Miliband’s geekishness, there is no denying that this guy has steel. You can laugh, but before you do make sure you’ve read Damian McBride’s Power Trip. In the discussions about whether Gordon Brown should call an early election, “Ed was the one resolute voice throughout that wobbly week saying Gordon should definitely go for it”. When it came to confronting the most dangerous man in Westminster about suspicions the Mad Dog himself was briefing against his own side (including Ed), it was Ed who spoke in cold, flat tones on hearing McBride’s denials: “I think you’re lying. I think we’re finished”. And of course, as the legend goes, he was prepared to stand on his own brother’s back in order to step up to the top.
Two Labour MPs moaning and an unhelpful editorial in the New Statesman? It’ll take more than that to remove a man who can be forgiven for thinking he may well be Prime Minister in six months time.