Today Survation released the first poll on the Rochester and Strood by-election. It shows UKIP on 40 per cent, the Conservatives on 31 per cent, Labour on 25 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 2 per cent. But the Mail on Sunday is wrong to report that this means Mark Reckless is “on course for victory” – as Lord Ashcroft often says, a poll is a snapshot, not a prediction. Here are five reasons why the Rochester and Strood by-election can be won by the Conservatives:
- It’s still over a month away. The writ for the by-election is yet to be moved, and there are weeks of campaigning ahead. As we noted in Newark, the Tory by-election machine is much better-equipped to pour a lot of people into a campaign and sustain the effort – the longer the campaign lasts, the more chance there is to change the polls.
- Mark Reckless has no hero status. The same Survation poll asks those who intend to vote for UKIP what there reasons are. Normally, such questions understate the protest vote element – people prefer to talk about their high-minded principles and personal admiration than to confess they want to give Westminster a kicking. Even taking that into account, “I like Mark Reckless” came third of three motivations, on 12 per cent, behind “I want to send a message of protest to the government” on 18 per cent and “I like UKIP and support their policies” on 70 per cent. Furthermore, voters are evenly split on whether they admire the defector’s move – 36 per cent think it was an honourable decision, and 35 per cent think it was opportunistic and self-serving. Asked outright, 25 per cent think he’s a hero and 31 per cent think he’s a traitor – among the 21.5 per cent of undecided voters, 9 per cent say hero, 30 per cent say traitor. In short, he’s a much less compelling front-man for a campaign than Douglas Carswell, particularly among those whose votes are still up for grabs.
- A second MP is less exciting than a first. Part of the power of UKIP’s drive in Clacton is that this is a symbolic chance to win their first Commons election battle. As well as being personally less inspiring, I wonder if Reckless will be able to convince people that electing a second is quite so much fun. The difficulty of a bandwagon is you have to keep it rolling constantly – one in the eye for Westminster is a catchy message, a follow-up jab lacks the same appeal. With the polls set to tighten as the ground war gets underway,
- The Conservatives can break through early with a radical selection. Already, leaflets are going out in the constituency telling voters they will all get a say on the choice of Tory candidate. Contrary to local media reports, I’m told CCHQ hasn’t yet decided whether to hold a public meeting (as in Clacton) or a full postal ballot. We laid out the reasons why a full postal primary can help to shoot UKIP’s fox a few weeks ago – if the party chooses this route then it will help to bring thousands of voters behind the new candidate.
- Grassroots Tories are up for the fight. At the party conference in Birmingham, and back in constituencies since, it’s been notable how geared up for the battle the Conservative grassroots are. Whereas many felt more reluctance about campaigning against Carswell, an influential thinker who didn’t lie about his defection, Reckless’ blatant untruths about his loyalty and decision to time his defection to cause maximum disruption to the Conservative conference have got people’s backs up. 150 people went on the Road Trip to Clacton yesterday – down from 500 in Newark. I’d expect far, far more in Rochester and Strood.