Let me start this blog post back to front. I was chatting to a long standing member of the Conservatives here in Norwich South about the political situation and the conversation turned, as I suppose is inevitable, to the AV referendum. I explained that having flirted with AV I was now on the No side of the camp and would vote and campaign against the change. To my surprise, given this Tory member was in his 70s and very big-C conservative in his views, he said that he would in fact be voting Yes. I had to ask, why? Well, it's our best chance of winning in Norwich South he countered. Go on, I said ... His reasoning went like this. The Conservatives here lose a certain amount of support every election because there hasn't been a clear challenger to Labour and the LibDems have always pushed, and pushed, and pushed, the tactical vote message of "only the LibDems can beat Labour here" to the point where a lot of Conservative voters in places like Eaton, Thorpe Hamlet and Town Close do actually choose to support the yellow even though they are blue. If, my colleague said, they could vote Conservative 1 (which would be their actual choice) and then LibDem 2 (their tactical choice) then that would stop them having to vote LibDem X. And he is confident that if people in Norwich South actually voted the way they believed in as opposed to the way that the LibDem leaflets instructed them to, then the Tories would come second and it would in fact be LibDem votes that would be re-distributed in our favour. Image, he said, those Eaton Tory voters could now happily vote Tory 1 LibDem 2 in the knowledge they won't accidentally let Labour in. Hmmm, I said, I will have to think on that one. I mentioned this to a LibDem friend of mine and she agreed; AV could actually damage the LibDems in Norwich who get elected in large part on the tactical vote.
Anyway what does this have to do with the Oldham East by-election. Well the Tory grassroots are apparently up in arms that the Prime Minister seems happy for a LibDem to win, even though the Tory candidate is not far behind in a three-horse race (the results for Oldham East and Norwich South are very similar).
Although CCHQ kicking this into the long grass is unthinkable, I know what Mr Cameron must be imagining. What if Labour sneak back in and get another MP because the Tories win an extra 500 votes and the LibDem miss out by a small margin? For what its worth, given the state of the voluntary party and the reaction on websites like ConHome, I think CCHQ will have to fight hard in order o satisfy the lust of the membership for a good hard electoral battle.
This links back to my first point; CCHQ and the Prime Minister's life would be much easier if this by-election were fought under AV where we could happily throw the kitchen sink at a Con 1 vote (and hopefully win) but be satisfied with Con 1 LibDem 2.
I wonder, in fact, if Oldham East might make some Tories re-think their opposition to AV ... and maybe make some Labour members rethink their support?