November 18, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
So this morning the constituents of Rochester and Strood go to the ballot box in a by-election to choose an MP to replace their previous MP. Except they aren’t doing that, because their previous MP is on the ballot, albeit representing a different party.
This is significant, because normally by elections are called to replace an MP that has resigned or died, which means that those who are standing don’t have the traditional incumbent’s advantage that a sitting MP gets in the general election.
On this occasion, and for the second time in two months, a Conservative MP has defected to UKIP, stood down, and put himself up for re-election for his new party. Mark Reckless is thus the UKIP candidate and should win today by a long distance. The question is, if he does, how much can we read into it?
Well, on the one hand, Rochester and Strood is no Clacton-on-Sea. Clacton, where Douglas Carswell defected and stood for re-election, was rated so UKIPpy in demographics and social terms that Nigel Farage would have stood there if Carswell hadn’t been there. Rochester and Strood was rated about 270th on this scale. It has a younger, more educated, higher paid electorate who would normally be happy to vote Conservative.
This is why some have been arguing that if Reckless wins, that means Armageddon has struck the Tories and we should expect an immediate leadership challenge from disgruntled ‘told you so’ Eurosceptics fearing for their seats next year. They may argue that if Reckless can win for UKIP, no one is safe.
This is, however, poppycock. Mark Reckless has been the MP since 2010, he has been a visible MP with a large majority, with no real complaints about him (apart from the time he missed a vote as he was too drunk). He has been on the Home Affairs select committee and been a vociferous Eurosceptic. He has name recognition, so therefore he possesses the incumbent’s advantage, whichever party he is standing for.
By elections tend to have a lower turnout out than in a general election, which normally leads to a chance of an unusual result. Because they are selecting a Government, voters tend to feel safer making a protest vote. The people of Rochester & Strood will feel even safer in this situation because they can make a protest vote for UKIP without changing their MP. Which is why Reckless will win by a long way.
The Conservatives have run a hopeless campaign, constantly trying to make points whilst shooting themselves in the foot. We have had the emails to all MPs insisting they make three journeys each to the constituency which smells of panic. They selected between two local candidates, which is fine. Then they attacked Reckless for being a Winchester and Oxford educated banker, which may be true, but forgets that it was THEY who selected him for Rochester and Strood in the first place. They put out a US style attack ad to say that “Mark Reckless will say anything to get elected”, which again forgets that it was as a Conservative that he got elected. Nothing has stuck.
Then there is the mess over the vote on the European Arrest Warrant which didn’t mention the European Arrest Warrant and the £1.7bn bill from the EU as the budget contributions were calculated differently. Nigel Farage couldn’t have written a better script for a UKIP win.
Look, I realise that having UKIP MPs is a big thing. Which is why when UKIP actually get an MP elected I will acknowledge it as a big thing. But that hasn’t happened yet, and won’t be the case tomorrow. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless are sitting MPs who got into Parliament because they were in the Conservative Party and got re-elected because they are good politicians and parliamentarians who have the trust of their constituents. I wouldn’t go as far to say they would both have been reflected had they defected to the Monster Raving Loony party, but it would have been close at worst!