Tory party chair Grant Shapps campaigning in Rochester. Photo: Getty
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Which Tory MPs haven't campaigned in Rochester yet, and what does this tell us?

The chief whip, Michael Gove, names and shames the Tory MPs who haven't yet visited Rochester and Strood to campaign against a Ukip win.

The Conservative party is becoming increasingly strict about its campaigning in Rochester and Strood, ahead of the by-election on 20 November. Unnerved by the polls giving Ukip – whose candidate Mark Reckless used to be one of their own – the lead, the Prime Minister has instructed his MPs to visit the constituency "at least three times" before the polls close, with cabinet members and whips visiting at least five times.

The Telegraph reported this morning on the chief whip Michael Gove's tactic of sending out regular "Roll of Honour" emails to the parliamentary party, listing the number of times each MP has visited the seat, and naming and shaming those who have yet to travel to Medway to take on their former colleague.

I got hold of one of these emails, and the 108 MPs who are listed under "0 visits" sent around late yesterday morning (some of whom may well have been embarrassed into scampering to Kent today) makes interesting reading.

I won't publish all the names, but the list includes:
 

Cabinet members

Eleven ministers haven't yet made the trip, including cabinet members such as the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. High-profile ministers on the list include business minister Matt Hancock, Treasury minister Andrea Leadsom and defence minister Anna Soubry, and almost all the health team. The new education minister Sam Gyimah is also on there, and he used to be David Cameron's PPS...
 

Those who have been identified as having a better chance running under the Ukip banner

Nigel Mills

Martin Vickers

David Nuttall

Chris Kelly

 

Those who have been rumoured as potential defectors

Peter Bone

Philip Hollobone – the most rebellious MP

George Eustice

Bill Cash

John Baron

Henry Smith

 

Rogues and eurosceptics

Nadine Dorries – has referred to Cameron and George Osborne as "two arrogant posh boys" and floated the notion of candidates running on joint Ukip-Conservative tickets

John Redwood – one of the most media-happy eurosceptic backbenchers

Adam Afriyie – once rumoured as a stalking horse for the Tory party leadership, and tabled a rebel amendment calling for the EU referendum to be brought forward to 2014

 

Although the absence of a number of ministers is probably more down to their time pressures than any political statement, 11 is a surprisingly high number considering the by-election is only a fortnight away.

More significant is the number of MPs either linked to eurosceptic views or more directly to having some alignment with Ukip's overall agenda who haven't been to campaign. This list is a telling insight into the general party's attitude to this by-election. The Tory line is that Reckless is not as popular a figure among constituents as their first defector, Douglas Carswell, is in Clacton. One cabinet minister told me at the party's conference that Reckless is a "complete dick". But it seems many of the party's MPs would prefer not to battle against him in his constituency – or rather, to battle against Ukip.

Reckless himself – although it is admittedly in his interest to do so – suggested to me that, if he wins, there could be more Tory defections ahead:

There are one or two Conservative MPs who I've had conversations with, and I spoke to a number of colleagues who are keeping matters under review; some will be looking very closely at me during the by-election, but whether anyone else will move, I don't know.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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