Parliamentary by-elections

Despite the polls, it’s not all over in Rochester & Strood

We’re still an awful long way off from the Rochester & Strood by-election. Even though Mark Reckless announced his defection from the Tories to Ukip in late September, the contest remains another month or so away (four weeks today, to be precise).

This ought to be long enough to change a few minds in the constituency. As such, I’m not reading too much into the opinion poll published last night that gave Reckless a 13-point lead.

For one thing, the survey was commissioned by Ukip itself. Not that I’m doubting Reckless is ahead of his rivals as things currently stand. But some of those rivals haven’t even been selected. The Tory candidate, for example, has yet to be chosen. The campaign hasn’t properly begun. And polls this far out from a by-election have been shown of late to be rather misleading. Witness the one just a few days before the Heywood & Middleton contest that suggested Labour was heading for a comfortable win.

The Conservatives chose to go for the long haul in Rochester & Strood. It’s the opposite of Labour’s tactic with Heywood, where the party hoped a short campaign would limit Ukip’s chance of success. It worked – just. Labour was also aided by the parallel campaign in Clacton. The Tories have no such diversion to rely upon this time, and therefore a long campaign was probably their wisest course.

With David Cameron and a battery of senior Tories each scheduled to visit the constituency a total of five times before polling day, an enormous battle is only now getting under way. Much could still happen to shift opinion either to or from Ukip. I still feel Mark Reckless has a struggle on his hands to win and I can’t quite understand why some in the media have decided this race is over – unless they’re bored of it already, of course.

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