Parliamentary by-elections

The Tories will want to play the long game in Rochester & Strood

We don’t yet have a date for the Rochester & Strood by-election, but we do have our first opinion poll.

It was carried out by Survation on behalf of the Mail on Sunday, and suggests that as things stand, Mark Reckless will win the seat for Ukip:

Rochester & Strood by-election pollReckless’ nine-point lead contrasts with that of 32 points for Ukip’s Douglas Carswell in Clacton, suggested almost a month ago in a poll by Lord Ashcroft.

If you add in the undecideds, Survation’s figures for Rochester & Strood change to Ukip 30%, Conservative 23%, Labour 19%, Lib Dem 2% and others 1%.

I still think Reckless will struggle to win the seat, for all the reasons previously listed. The Conservative party conference showed just how angry and upset the party is over Reckless’ defection, unlike that of Douglas Carswell which continues to be treated with a kind of grudging respect. If the by-election is set for a date in November –  say, the 6th or 13th – the Tories would still have over a month to channel that emotion into a far more aggressive campaign that the one they have mounted in Clacton.

A hefty victory for Ukip in Clacton would give the party extra momentum for the fight in Rochester, as well as a huge dose of publicity – the latter being one of the fundamental motors of the Ukip machine. But there’s always the chance a protracted contest will throw up more hiccups than opportunities for Reckless and co. Much may depend on what else Ukip can do between the two by-elections to keep itself in the headlines.

Survation’s poll asked a few other questions about Ukip, Europe and Mark Reckless. I was particularly struck by the responses to a question about Reckless missing a vote on one of the Budgets because he was too drunk. Almost half of respondents (47.7%) said that the episode did not prove that Reckless was unfit to be an MP, while just over a third (35.4%) said it did.

Meanwhile a total of 76.6% of respondents said a victory by Douglas Carswell in this week’s Clacton by-election would have no bearing whatsoever on how they will vote in Strood & Rochester – and for 65.7%, neither would David Cameron’s “go to bed with Farage, wake up with Miliband” message.

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