The Corby by-election campaign is warming up, with the Tories selecting Christine Emmett as their candidate. Emmett is a local woman who lives in neighbouring Rutland. She runs her own management consultancy, and claims ‘extensive experience’ working with the NHS and in other areas of the public sector, notably in the fashionable area of ‘health and wellbeing’. The emphasis that the party is placing on Emmett’s work with public services, particularly the NHS, suggests that its strategy will concentrate on public service reform rather than economic policy.
Speaking of which, Nick Clegg, in an interview with the Times (£), has reiterated that the autumn will be dominated by a ‘rat-a-tat barrage’ of economic measures designed to alleviate pressure on households and boost growth. Clegg’s solutions appear to be Keynesian in the general sense of the term. He says that the Treasury will underwrite a house building programme in the south-east, and that there will be substantial capital investment in Britain’s former industrial heartlands. Clegg rejects backbench Conservative claims that he is an impediment to economy progress, but he concedes that he has failed to communicate his party’s interest in cutting red tape to help SMEs. In view of that, one can expect the Lib Dem conference to consider the issue, and perhaps then we’ll discover if Clegg is entertaining radical supply-side reforms, proposals which might be road-tested in the Corby by-election in mid-November.
The distant vote has been timed coincide with the national campaigns for elected police commissioners, another radical public service reform initiated by the Conservatives. CCHQ has taken some flak from Tim Montgomerie and others over its leisurely approach to selecting a candidate. It’s nearly a month since Louise Mensch resigned and Labour (whose candidate, Andy Sawford, is from nearby Kettering) has made a cracking start, opening a 15 point lead, 6 more than their national lead according to YouGov and matching the national swing of around 8.8 per cent from the Tories to Labour since the last election. And, of course, there is the ever-present threat from the right. UKIP fancy embarrassing the Tories, and will launch considerable resources at the seat. A heavy round of leafleting and canvassing is expected this weekend.
It’s hard to reject the implication of Tim’s point: that CCHQ (and therefore Baroness Warsi, too) has been shambolic of late, a feeling compounded by news that a hapless press officer misspelt Corby and East Northamptonshire in the press release announcing Emmett’s candidature last night. The flagging blues need every second until polling day to convince the burghers of Corby that there is more to government than economics, and much vital time has already been lost. You’d be brave to bet on Ms. Emmett in these circumstances.