The Conservatives and UKIP have begun their final push ahead of next week’s Rochester and Strood by-election. Polls say UKIP will win their second House of Commons seat with a comfortable margin of 12 percent, but the Conservatives are still fighting hard.
Last night Nigel Farage and Mark Reckless held a public meeting in the Rochester Corn Exchange, in which he repeated his message that “if you vote UKIP you get UKIP”. He joked that he’d been to the constituency so many times “it almost felt like I’d been more times than the Prime Minister,” a reference to the level of personal commitment David Cameron has put into winning.
Meanwhile, Conservative strategists are said to be “depressed” about the polling in Rochester. “We had hoped that Carswell was a one off, we knew he was popular in Clacton so it was pretty obvious he’d win” said one. “But Mark Reckless is a bit of a non-entity, and has only been an MP for four years. It’s painful to think he’ll win anyway,” he continued.
But UKIP are not having it all their own way. Last night’s public meeting was supposed to be for undecided voters. Campaigners had phoned up hundreds of voters to invite them, but the room was decidedly empty until the party faithful turned up.
We did find one genuine voter, a married pensioner from Strood North, who said he liked UKIP’s immigration policy but would probably stick with the Conservatives because he feared “the economic impact of leaving the common market”.
Also the bad polls do not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst. She spent last night hosting a series of small public meetings in local residents houses. She said: “Everyone has been really nice, really positive, I haven’t had one single negative comment. I’m actually really enjoying the by-election.”
Tolhurst is a local councillor on Medway Council, and has known Mark Reckless for several years. That did not stop the two having a slight dig at each other. In his public meeting Reckless laid the blame for perceived failures in local primary schools at Tolhurst’s door. He said: “She does not have the sense of urgency needed to solve the problems in the education system.”
The Conservative said it “was not surprising people are being nice to me, considering who I’m running against.” The by-election will take place on Thursday 20th November, the results are expected in the early hours of Friday morning.