The Tory spin machine has been working overtime these past few weeks, playing down their chances of winning the Corby and East Northamptonshire by-election.
They’re doing everything they can – even including Lord Ashcroft commissioning opinion polls – to try to show a Labour victory is a foregone conclusion.
It’s just the usual Tory operation, trying to persuade Labour supporters there’s no point voting as the election is already decided, but no one should be under any illusions: we lost this seat in 2010, and winning it back will be a really tough challenge.
Ashcroft’s latest poll claims we have a massive 22 point lead, with Labour on 54% and the Conservatives on 32%.
Three problems: First, this poll suggests the dozen other candidates who have declared so far sharing just 14% between them. Some of them will be lucky to get a hundred votes, but most people would expect UKIP and the Lib Dems – both of whose figures are not usually reflected in constituency polls like this – to be doing better than that.
Second, his figures predict a swing of 13%, in a seat noted for relatively low swings and stable votes. Only once since 1983 has either the Conservative or Labour share of the vote been outside the range of 36 to 45%. Even in 1997, the swing was under 8% compared to a national trend for similar marginal target seats of around 10%.
And third, his analysis is just not borne out by what is happening on the ground.
His claim that the Conservative campaign is conserving resources is matched neither by the reality on the ground where they say they have opened five fully functioning campaign offices, nor by their insistence that every Tory MP campaigns there at least three times.
The truth is that we lost this bell-weather constituency in 2010. Winning it back will be a really tough fight for us and we are not taking anything for granted.
Corby is the main town but half the voters live in places like Rockingham, Oundle, Irthlingborough and Raunds: picture-postcard market towns and rural villages dotted across East Northamptonshire.
Average incomes in these areas are higher than Mid-Sussex and on a par with places like East Hampshire, Woking and West Berkshire. As many people own their home as in places like Huntingdon or South Oxfordshire. When Ed Miliband kicked off Labour’s campaign in Thrapston, the Independent said he’d come to the “heart of middle England”.
But people across the constituency are seeing the impact of the Tories economic failure. Youth unemployment is rising at a faster rate than anywhere else in Britain. Residents are very worried about plans which could see their local hospital lose 515 of its 658 beds and much of their A&E, acute, maternity and children’s services.
We’ve got a first-rate candidate in Andy Sawford. He’s Northamptonshire through and through and a well known community campaigner who has been working his socks off to help local people since being selected a year ago.
And a great team of local volunteers is working hard to take Labour’s positive message to every resident.
But we’ve got a huge job to do to persuade people who backed the Tories so strongly just two years ago and in local elections since. We’ll certainly not be swayed by an internal poll by Conservative strategist and billionaire poll commissioner, Lord Ashcroft doing what the Tories always do.
Please come and help – the Campaign Centre number is 07872 417241.
Ian Austin is the campaign manager for the Corby and East Northamptonshire by-election