Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

‘We aren’t connecting with the electorate’: Michael Fabricant on the Tory election challenge

The only Tory more Tiggerish than Michael Fabricant is the party chairman Grant Shapps, and perhaps that’s why the two work so well together on campaigns. But even the jovial Conservative vice chairman is exhausted after the full-throttle Eastleigh by-election. Fabricant was shouted at in the street by a voter who, thinking he was a Lib Dem, harangued him about Chris Huhne, and one voter placed notice on a wheelie bin telling campaigners to dump their leaflets there, not through the letterbox.

But in spite of that, from the glowing way he describes the campaign, you might be forgiven for thinking the Tories won it, or at least came second, not a dismal third behind UKIP. Merrily pouring tea in a noisy Commons tearoom, he jokes that the Conservatives were being polite to let the Lib Dems win. He is being serious in one sense – the Coalition may well have suffered more in the long-term from the Lib Dems losing the seat.

‘The Eastleigh campaign was a real full-blooded by-election campaign: not all of ours are. And what was particularly nice was the camaraderie of the parliamentary party. About 220 MPs actually came down to Eastleigh, some on numerous occasions. I would say that we were not necessarily so coalicious in the by-election. It wasn’t coalition, it was demolition.’

But the demolition gang, in spite of their best efforts, didn’t succeed in driving a wrecking ball through the Lib Dem campaign. Fabricant, though, was hopeful right up until the last minute that the Tories might yet succeed, although in the last week of campaigning, he saw a surge in support for UKIP.

So now he’s mulling what it was that deprived the Conservatives of their chance, though he is keen to insist that he would not have changed Maria Hutchings as candidate, even adding that he hopes she stands again in 2015.

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