David Cameron’s local election kick-off speech today notably contained no reference to UKIP, but 12 mentions of Labour. The Conservative leader and his colleagues concerned with campaigns are on a damage-limitation exercise about the party’s chances in the local elections, and as well as taking the attack to Labour on the policy front – arguing that the Tories have freed councils from Labour’s restrictions, kept council tax down and reduced local government waste – a plank of their strategy involves attacking Labour’s prowess in southern council seats.
The key phrase which you can expect to hear whenever there is evidence that the Labour campaign is faltering in the south is ‘Labour’s Southern Discomfort’. CCHQ developed it after Labour failed to make an impact in Eastleigh, and hopes that it will be able to argue that this May, the Labour party is demonstrating it can’t really do One Nation politics as effectively as it had hoped. Grant Shapps emphasised this on the World at One today, saying:
‘This is the moment where if Ed Miliband wants to be a One Nation party, he needs to prove he is winning in the south east and the east and the south west. There are lots of parts of the country where he needs to prove that this isn’t an election of southern discomfort.’
As for UKIP, one thing to watch out for is the increasing prominence of planning on campaign literature. It’s no coincidence that as the green belt appears on UKIP local election leaflets, Tory MPs are growing increasingly jittery about any Westminster moves to encroach on green spaces. It’s another example of Nigel Farage trying to branch out his party’s appeal from simply Europe and immigration.