Last week the Conservative party was accusing Ukip of ‘parachuting’ defectors Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless into seats they had held for years. Now they are planning to parachute in a candidate of their own, in the form of double Olympic gold medallist rower James Cracknell. The Conservative party selection for a candidate to fight Reckless in Rochester and Strood will take place via an open primary, but Cracknell’s high profile is likely to give him enough of an edge to secure the nomination.
Last night party sources confirmed to the Mail on Sunday that they would like to see the 42 year old father of three put himself forward to take part in the primary, which will be decided via a constituency wide vote. One senior figure told the Mail “It’ll be up to local voters in Rochester and Strood but James would be a real asset for the party”.
Cracknell stood for the party unsuccessfully in last May’s European Election, and is understood to have put his name forward to contest the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, although London Mayor Boris Johnson was eventually chosen as the candidate in that constituency.
Open primaries are rare in the UK. So far only the Conservative Party has experimented with using them, in two constituencies before the 2010 general election, and in 12 so far before the 2015 election. In both Totnes and Gosport, the two constituencies to hold open primaries in 2009 ahead of the 2010 election, the candidate chosen by the primary process went on to win the seat with an increased majority, having increase the candidate’s profile through the primary process.
The Conservatives are expected to throw the metaphorical kitchen sink at the Rochester and Strood by-election, as a second Ukip MP would be a disastrous blow both to the party’s, and to Prime Minister David Cameron’s credibility.