One of the key strands of the Conservative campaign in Eastleigh is trust: not just because campaigners can remind voters about Chris Huhne, but thanks to a contrast they can draw between Maria Hutchings and Lib Dem candidate Mike Thornton. The party’s latest poster underlines this: it accuses the Lib Dems of ‘facing both ways on development’ and contrasts quotes from Thornton on protecting green spaces and his voting record.
The bottom of the poster says: ‘Maria Hutchings has consistently campaigned with local residents against these developments.’
I’ve already grumbled about how silly it is for the two Coalition parties to be scrapping not just over agreed Coalition policy but also over something that will help those aspirational young families in Eastleigh afford to live in the constituency. But the Tories clearly believe in marketing Hutchings as a straight-talker, even when that straight talker is honest about things most politicians tend to mumble about, like her opinions on private schools, or disagreeing with her party leader on the EU. Their point is that at least you know what this candidate is thinking.
The trouble is that currently the odds suggest Eastleigh residents aren’t necessarily thinking what the Tories are thinking in this by-election. The bookies’ implied odds today have the Lib Dems on 61%, and the Tories on 28%. If the Lib Dems do win the seat, it will be interesting to watch the post-match analysis in the Tory party. The media will call it a ‘blow to Cameron’, but there could well be some soul-searching about the selection process, too.