As Scrapbook suggested this afternoon, the Conservative candidate in Eastleigh has once again been the only candidate from a mainstream party not to show up for a hustings. This time it’s the 38 Degrees one.
As with Radio 5 last week, Maria Hutchings has been “empty chaired”. A placard with her face on it has been placed where she should be sitting. Apparently the place is packed:
Eastleigh residents came out in the cold to participate in their democracy this evening. What does Maria Hutchings think of them that she can’t be bothered?
UPDATE: As predicted she didn’t show. Full story here.
While Lord Rennard’s allegedly wandering hands have provided Maria Hutchings’ disastrous campaign with political breathing space, the Tories still haven’t confirmed whether their off-message hopeful will be attending the 38 Degrees hustings this evening:
If she fails to turn up, this would be at least the second hustings she has snubbed. Hutchings was forced to deny she was kept off a Radio 5 debate last week because she was a “loose cannon”. On the basis of the photo below from the Southern Daily Echo, Scrapbook suspects her press officer (to the right) has his own views:
You can’t spin that expression. Priceless.
The Tories’ candidate in Eastleigh appears never to have run a company — despite repeated claims that she is a “business woman”. Searches of records held by regulators indicate that gaffe-prone Maria Hutchings’ has never have been a director or to have held shares in a company for which she works.
Perhaps anyone who has worked in the private sector can follow Hutchings’ lead and describe themselves as a “business man” or “business woman”:
“I’m a straight talking business woman and mother of four who lives in the local area.”
Her current employer is a human resources consultancy owned by the former chair of Eastleigh Conservatives. Despite the “business woman” spin, however, Hutchings never took a stake in the company, which was formed just eight months ago.
Tory HQ have also taken to name-dropping prominent companies in connection with Hutchings:
“Maria has worked in the Communications Industry for twenty six years. Her clients have ranged from small businesses to blue chips such as EMI Records, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Texaco. Her specialisms in communications are recruitment and new business development.”
But her CV suggests she hasn’t worked for any of these household names for at least 16 years. The last time she worked for Texaco or EMI would appear to be in a four-month stint at a recruitment advertisers in 1986 — twenty seven years ago.
There is one former client of Hutchings’ employers which, funnily enough, doesn’t merit a mention – the Labour Party (of Malta).
The Conservatives are really honing their inverse Midas touch down in Eastleigh:
They really can’t get anything right.
In the meantime, the Liberal Democrats — who outnumber the Tories ten to one on the council and have much better voter ID — will be hoovering up votes.
The Tories are so ashamed of their gaffe-prone by-election candidate that they have stopped Maria Hutchings appearing on a Radio 5 Live debate at which all the other main candidates were present.
With suggestions last night that Hutchings might not appear because she would be on the campaign trail with “a cabinet minister”, it later emerged that David Cameron would be visiting the constituency. Party sources have claimed that the BBC failed to agree an acceptable timing with them — and briefed against Auntie to Guido:
“The BBC are being disingenuous, they are wilfully misleading listeners. We’re not quite sure how this fits with their code of integrity”.
Nice try. But Scrapbook has established that the major parties were told about the broadcast eight days ago on Wednesday 13th. The CCHQ line is further undermined by news that Hutchings’ main event with Cameron takes place after the debate had concluded for the main candidates.
With the betting markets
more or less certain that Hutchings will go down in flames
next Thursday, the blame game will shape up to be interesting.
The ringleader of this shambles? Tory chairman Grant Shapps, who could have blocked her re-selection.
The Tories are obsessed with calling their by-election candidate Maria Hutchings a “local campaigner”, “local champion” and a prospective “local MP”. Indeed, the page of her official website announcing her candidacy mentions the word “local” no less than eight times.
But doth the lady (Grant Shapps) protest too much? Hutchings clearly hadn’t read the script when she was speaking to the BBC after she was elevated to the party’s elite A-list prior to the last general election and a thumping by Chris Huhne, who increased his vote share by nearly nine percent.
Mrs Hutchings believes she has the ability to be a first class MP whatever the selection process but as an “Essex girl through and through” and proud of it
A county two hours drive from Hampshire might hold some attraction, however.
If it were up to Grant Shapps and her CCHQ minders, Hutchings would be kept in a Tory safe house in Essex right up until 10pm next Thursday.
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps has hilariously claimed that he has banned negative campaigning in the Eastleigh by-election – while senior colleagues simultaneously launch attacks backed up by posters. Sometime online marketing spiv Shapps told the press he would be organising a:
“unrelentingly positive campaign”
Strangely enough, bruiser Liam Fox didn’t get the memo, blustering to Sky News:
“I think that the Lib Dems really have a problem about trust, I think they’ve got to explain to the students who voted for them in the last election about why they ditched their pledge on tuition fees, and then why having decided to pledge on an in-out referendum in Europe before the general election that they do not want one at all now.”
While certainly negative, Fox’s remarks on trust dovetail conveniently with this official poster which emerged over the weekend:
It might be more truthful to say that “Hutchings is the candidate you can trust … but David Cameron can’t”. Indeed, the selection of Hutchings could be seen as a challenge to his authority from the right:
- Hutchings said she would have voted against gay marriage
- Scrapbook revealed her to have more extreme views than Nadine Dorries on abortion
- She has been forced to deny telling a reporter that the previous Labour government had done more for “the immigrants, the gays, the bloody foxes” than for children with special needs
- Having told reporters that Tony Blair should “stop focussing” on Africa after she ambushed him on a live TV debate in 2005, it is certainly questionable whether she supports Cameron’s pledge to spend 0.7% of UK national income on aid.
Watching Tory spinners attempt to manage her should be entertaining.
Chris Huhne’s political corpse is still warm but the coalition hostilities in Eastleigh (and Westminster) have already begun — starting with Tory attempts to knife a potential Lib Dem candidate.
In the last few minutes, activists have had an email from the Tory HQ campaigning department asking them to man phone lines to Hampshire from 6:30pm tonight. Those, err, lucky enough to be there for what is euphemistically described as a “fun night” on Monday will be joined by Grant Shapps and his predecessor as party chair, Eric Pickles:
“I am pleased to announce we will be joined at the Call Centre by Eric Pickles Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Party Chairman Grant Shapps. Both will be hitting the phones from 06:30pm and it would be great if you could join us in what should be a fun night of canvassing.”
Scrapbook hears Michael Green will be making an appearance too.
More: The email to activists in full »