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.

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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.