Eastleigh’s Conservatives have been setting up a ‘secret’ campaign operations room, anticipating the possibility of a by-election campaign in the Eastleigh Constituency Eastleigh News has learnt from several sources.
Over the last few weeks, the Conservatives have refurbished an office at the Southern Parishes Conservative Club in Hedge End, replacing old furniture, installing new equipment & phone lines, and have made plans to get their campaign rolling quickly, if Chris Huhne eventually decides to step down from his position as MP for Eastleigh, for whatever reason.
Conservative Central Office have also been showing more interest than is usual in the recent by-election for a Town Council seat in Hedge End and in the forthcoming Borough Elections in Eastleigh, clearly trying to gauge what their level of support is in the Borough.
As reported by Eastleigh News, The Conservatives claimed that the 2000 Tories in Eastleigh over the weekend of 3 -4 March was part of their Borough election campaign, but many observers noted that this was co-incidentally the weekend after Chris Huhne’s court appearance on 2 March.
Speculation over the Conservatives intentions for Eastleigh has been rife in recent weeks, after Baroness Warsi revealed in an interview that the Conservatives would fight hard to win the Eastleigh seat.
When asked whether Conservatives were prepared for a by-election, Baroness Warsi – who admitted that she herself been campaigning in the borough recently – said:
“It is a target seat and I think we would fight it hard and we would fight it to win. I don’t think the Lib Dems are dug in there. It’s winnable. We will do everything we can to win it.”
“The party is ready for any by-election at any time. When a by-election is called in Eastleigh, then of course we will kick into action. If a by-election is called in Eastleigh then yeah, the party will be ready to cope.”
“…it depends on what the outcome of the case is. The by-election could be called because, you know, Chris might stand down irrespective of what happens at the court case.”
Eastleigh News can now reveal that there is some substance behind Baroness Warsi’s comments, as preparations for a possible campaign in Eastleigh have been underway for some time as also on the Conservative Home website.
The preparations for a possible by- election have also been mentioned on the Conservative Home website where editor Tim Montgomerie has written of his desire to use his site to raise by-election Campaign funds for Eastleigh Conservatives.
Royston Smith, the karate chopping Conservative leader of Southampton City Council – who has just been awarded the George Medal – is understood to have shown an interest in standing in Eastleigh but it’s believed the conservatives will be sticking with their 2010 general election candidate Maria Hutchings.
Mrs Hutchings, who is currently the Conservative parliamentary spokesperson for Eastleigh put in some feisty hustings performances in the last election to land the Conservatives their biggest share of the vote in Eastleigh since 1992.
Despite a sparkling performance in what was a tight contest, Ms Hutchings failed to unseat Chris Huhne after the Lib Dems ran a strong tactical campaign targeting Labour swing voters – this time out she could be vulnerable to having vital votes siphoned away by Ukip if they choose to stand their popular leader Nigel Farage.
Meanwhile Eastleigh News understand the Labour party has also been in discussion with their central office and are also ‘ready to go’ should it prove necessary however a comparative lack of local resources means their campaign is likely to be managed by a regional officer and a national campaign team.
It’s understood a strong local candidate is in the frame to try and woo back Labour supporters who defected along with
It would seem the only party not preparing for a by-election are the Lib Dems themselves, presumably in a show of support and confidence in Mr Huhne who has protested his innocence of all charges.