I have yet to get to Norwich North to help Conservative candidate Chloe Smith (left) but still very much intend to do so. My article is therefore based on news reports and comments from friends who have been.
There has been all sorts of rumour and gossip flying around about various candidates and there has been the suggestion that dirty tricks are being employed to smear opponents. The first one to grab my attention was the suggestion that the UKIP candidate Glenn Tingle had in the past been a member of the National Front but had resigned when he decided to join the Army. This has now rather belatedly, been strenuously denied by UKIP and Mr Tingle, and in the absence of the promised evidence in the form of a letter, we should attribute this to smear tactics. Interestingly only the Conservative and Green candidates have so far signed a pledge to run a clean campaign.
One rumour that seems to have more substance is that the Labour candidate Chris Ostrowski was until recently a Conservative member. It seems that not only was he a member but he sought election as a Party representative as a Conservative candidate in National Union of Student elections and offered his services to Shadow Ministers.
Since the by-election has been called due to the resignation of a popular local Labour MP and the manner in which he was treated by the Labour Party, this revelation will undoubtedly stick in the craw of some Labour members and activists. Reports suggest that Mr Ostrowski is struggling to make much of an impression in the campaign, with offers of help ignored and very little leafleting or canvassing taking place. However, Labour have a history of winning this seat and their collapse should not be taken for granted.
The Lib Dem candidate is getting literature out but seems to be rousing a certain amount of ridicule. April Pond was party leader Nick Clegg’s third choice as candidate after former independent MP Martin Bell and the local newspaper editor turned him down. Pond was then called in from the Broadland seat where she had already been selected as PPC, to fight the by-election. I am told that she has put out a leaflet attacking Tories who live in posh houses with moats and duck islands, ignoring the fact that the Conservative candidate Chloe Smith lives in a modest house locally with no moat or duck island. The massive irony and hypocrisy of it though is that Pond has a huge house in South Norfolk (miles from the constituency) that has a moat of its own. So Pond has a mansion and a moat and she has the audacity to attack the Conservatives. Still, Lib Dems rarely let the truth get in the way of a personal attack.
It will be fascinating to see how the parties all come out of this by-election. Nothing I have heard so far suggests anything other than a Conservative win with Labour struggling to hold onto their vote. Labour may be slightly helped by the delay of unpopular local government reorganisation proposals that would have seen boundary changes and a new Unitary structure for both Norfolk and Suffolk.
I would be interested to hear of reports from anyone who has actually been to help in the by-election.