The Tories have now accepted they’ve got a much worse chance of winning the Rochester by-election than they claimed they initially did. The plan now is to factor in a victory to the political narrative so the result doesn’t cause as much trouble when it does come, and to whittle down Mark Reckless’s majority so that it appears he cannot hold the constituency in 2015.
But a second victory for Ukip in a less Ukip-friendly seat will still encourage would-be Tory defectors, and this is what the whips and Number 10 fear. Most MPs think John Baron and Philip Hollobone are the most susceptible to Ukip, but there’s another name on the Tory grapevine.
Henry Smith, the MP for Crawley, is understood to have approached Ukip legal officer Matt Richardson to say he needed to speak to him urgently. When I asked Smith about the allegation that he’s been in talks with Ukip, he responded thus:
‘I want the UK to have a referendum on our future membership of the EU and am convinced that the only realistic way to achieve that is with a majority Conservative government after May 7th next year.
‘Whilst Europe is an important issue, I am remaining a Conservative MP because I think the Party is also the only one with credible policies to further create economic growth, lower taxation and enhance public services such as the NHS.’
Note no denial of discussions with the party. What could that urgent meeting with Matt Richardson have been about, then?
Update, 3.44pm: Smith tweets that he hasn’t had talks with Ukip about defecting.
— Henry Smith (@HenrySmithMP) November 4, 2014