All the evidence is pointing to a Lib Dem win in Eastleigh, but those Tories visiting are continuing to fight to the bitter end. Eric Pickles was down there today, and wasted no time at all in sinking his teeth into his Coalition partners. The Communities Secretary said:
‘The Lib Dems are taking the people of Eastleigh for a ride. Their homes tax would hit hardworking families hardest – with ordinary people running the risk of seeing a £320 hike in their council tax. The Lib Dem candidate doesn’t understand that his new tax could not be introduced without a costly general revaluation of council tax bands. When Labour did this in Wales, four times as many homes moved up one or more council tax bands as moved down.
‘Conservative priorities are completely different to the Lib Dems’. We have focused on delivering our 2010 election pledge to freeze council tax for two years, and we have now gone even further by providing funding for a third year’s freeze. The Lib Dems did not promise to freeze council tax before the last General Election – in fact they were opposed to capping council tax and said in 2010 they would increase council tax. This help for hardworking people is the result of David Cameron being in Government.’
It’s not unusual to hear these ‘if we weren’t in government, X wouldn’t happen’ statements from Conservatives and Lib Dems, except it’s normally reserved for the briefings after the Budget. But this by-election is also seeing the rise of the ‘if we weren’t in Coalition, X could happen’. In releasing Pickles’ words, CCHQ tried to underline the message that the Lib Dems are more than just dead wood who aren’t providing the ‘help for hardworking people’ that Pickles is describing by saying:
‘Eric Pickles has warned the people of Eastleigh not to vote for a Lib Dem who could hold David Cameron back from doing the right thing for hardworking families in Britain.’
David Cameron made the same point yesterday in a Q&A in the constituency, when he told voters that ‘to get an EU referendum you need to vote for a Tory-only government’. This was interesting because previously the Prime Minister had insisted that a referendum would be a ‘red line’ in Coalition negotiations. Expect to hear more and more of this even once the Eastleigh by-election has finished. The Tory leadership met at Chequers this week to discuss their party’s immigration and welfare strategy, and strategists believe the party could reap significant benefits if it is able to show that the Lib Dems have been holding them back from ‘doing the right thing for hardworking families’ on these areas, too.
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