So the starting gun for the Eastleigh by-election has been fired, and the Tories have been first to select their candidate. As I noted the other day, Maria Hutchings, who lost to Chris Huhne in 2010, was the sitting candidate and the party has confirmed that she will fight the seat. However, as I also pointed out, she comes with a range of baggage, which is already causing her problems.
Added to this is the presence of Grant “Spiv” Shapps, a less than fortunate choice of party chairman, if only because nobody knows whether they are talking to him, Michael Green, Sebastian Fox, or Chuck Champion. Shapps, a rather less trustworthy individual than Arthur Daley or Flash Harry, gives the impression that he is about to try and pass off another dodgy motah onto an unsuspecting punter.
Thus the truly unappealing prospect from Young Dave’s jolly good chaps. And it’s not got off to a good start, with Ms Hutchings’ back catalogue being pored over, especially what she is alleged to have said back in 2005 to the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, for example that she did not care about refugees. It gets worse.
She is also quoted as saying that Labour did more for “the immigrants, the gays, the bloody foxes” than for children with special needs. She would have voted against same sex marriage, is unequivocally “pro-life” (to the extent that she would reduce the abortion limit to ten weeks), and would vote to leave the EU, no ifs, no buts. The thought occurs that this may not appeal to Lib Dem voters.
But she is not a “rich Tory toff”, so that’s all right, then. Well, up to a point: while Michael Ashcroft is warning the Tories that few voters in Eastleigh are likely to “switch out of disgust” for Huhne’s speeding cover-up, Shapps has ignored this advice and confirmed that his campaign will target Huhne’s conduct. That he was an apparently assiduous MP is not allowed to enter.
And to put the lid on the Tory offering, Ms Hutchings has herself contradicted Shapps by telling “I want to talk about the issues that affect the people of Eastleigh”. Huhne’s behaviour outside the constituency, and before he became an MP, is not likely to figure in that category. Then she has said that she doesn’t want to discuss Huhne, and “That issue is in the past”.
So far, so shambolic, then. And on top of all that is Ms Hutchings’ assertion that she would be running a “clean campaign”. That rules out just about any of Shapps’ usual tactics, so either the Tory campaign will be a shambles, or she is being no more honest than the unfortunate Huhne was with the press over his speeding points. This may not end well for Young Dave.
But it will mean excellent spectator sport for a few weeks, so bring it on.