Newark has become a destination for Conservative campaigners demoralised by the local & European results. Around this Nottinghamshire market town there are whispers of victory in the by-election on Thursday. If Robert Jenrick wins big, then the momentum created by that, and the effect upon Conservative volunteers will be great. Defeat or narrow victory here could cause some to doubt their faith.
The operation for the Conservative party, led by George Hollingbery, has been impressive. Evidence of how seriously the party takes Newark is in front of any volunteer: the wall to the right of the entrance is one long roll of honour, the signatures and dates of MPs who have campaigned. It’s like the Top Gear test track board. A show of solidarity by the parliamentary party, it creates a sense of fun: the feeling you get from knowing that you might be part of the winning team.
As a foot soldier for the day, I was in and back out again with my instructions in minutes. The campaign office is geared to handle large numbers and they have to be. Thursday’s visit by the PM brought a surge of volunteers and members of the press. Keeping the show on the road on days like that is currently one of the bigger challenges for the campaign team. Hundreds of activists are expected to turn up for Thursday’s Get Out The Vote operation, crucial because much of the Conservative support is scattered in smaller outlying villages. If on Thursday they lack enough volunteers to ‘knock up’ voters, then this entire effort may have been wasted.
If Newark shows Ukip support settling back down, it will help to make the argument that voters hold those we send to the Commons to a higher standard.