With a week to go until the Rochester & Strood by-election, we see a nervous David Cameron bracing himself for another ‘fruitcake, loony and closet racist’ ex-Tory to snatch one of the Conservatives safe seats away from him. While a vibrant shift to the political right has barely budged Conservative standings in the opinion polls, there is a whiff of Euroscepticism in the air that Nigel Farage’s self styled “People’s Army” has utilised and the timing could not be any better for them. While one might imagine Ed Miliband’s Labour would be marvelling at the fractured political right, this is far from the truth. Labour too, is suffering from an identity crisis of it’s own unique kind. A sorry Ed Miliband is facing little confidence within his own party, with a recent opinion poll suggesting that 73% of voters do not see him as a viable leader , however Miliband can take a brief sigh of relief that Rochester & Strood is not within the traditional Labour heartland which allows them to take the backseat next Thursday.
Next week’s by-election will not be referendum on the coalition, but it will be a referendum on Centre-right politics, and to a much lesser extent, charisma. The newly inaugurated UKIP poster-boy Douglas Carswell is indeed charismatic, albeit charming to a degree, much like his party leader Nigel Farage. While public relatability may be a vote winner in the age of elitist politics, one could argue that UKIP’s Rochester & Strood by-election candidate Mark Reckless possesses a slightly awkward persona and a somewhat wooden approach to public relations. Within both the Labour and Conservative parties, accusations towards Mark Reckless ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ to ‘further his own career’ have definitely not been thin on the ground, however more hardened political veterans would argue not to focus on style but on substance. In the world of Euroscepticism, Mark Reckless does indeed have substance, leading a group of 53 rebellious MP’s against legislation regarding the European Union budget, and maverick tendencies can definitely lead to vote winners.
While opinion polls for next week’s by-election predict a decisive victory for the UKIP camp, the Conservatives are past the point of no return for this constituency. Towing the party line on European and National issues will not win voters over, and nor will the bog-standard political rhetoric used against UKIP. Nigel Farage on the other hand must ensure that his party members ‘behave’ and stick to their party agenda, deviating rants about immigration or similar will alienate floating voters and this is an agenda they will need to stick by in order to win more seats in the 2015 General Election. Ed Miliband and his Labour Party can use the by-election to regroup and find where they really stand on the important issues, because if Miliband fails to find his ground within 6 months, he would sink into political oblivion and more predictably a leadership crisis.