Eastleigh by-election: extracts from today’s newspapers.

These reports are grim reading for David Cameron. “>I don’t wholly agree with former conservative MP Paul Goodman’s analysis in the Telegraph but it is brilliantly insightful, as ever.

‘Our candidate… a loose cannon? Angry PM fires broadside at BBC’ (Guard p16) – ‘Cameron blasts the BBC for ‘behaving stupidly’ over his election candidate’ (Mail p36) – ‘Cam raps Beeb for empty chair stunt’ (Sun p2 ld) as ‘Hiding our candidate? This is BBC behaving badly, says Cameron’ (Tele p18) – So, how do you ssolve a problem like Maria’ (Mirror p2 ld) – ‘Tory’s radio silence prompts claims of interference’ (Ti p7) – The Tory by-election campaign in Eastleigh suffered a blow when the PM was forced to deny that the party’s candidate was being hidden away because she was a “loose cannon”, rpt. Cameron also became embroiled in a row with the BBC after the candidate spent time preparing for an event with him rather than face voters at a hustings organised by the corporation. Lib Dems asked why she was “running scared” of the media and being “gagged” by Tory minders when she was out on the stump. They also demanded to know why the Tories continued to describe her as “local” when she only moved to Hampshire from Essex after she was selected to stand at the last general election. Cameron: “Maria is hard-working, lives locally, is a mother of four, has business experience. That’s what matters. We’ve got a great candidate, she’d do a brilliant job for the constituency. She backed my plan to get on top of the deficit, get the economy moving, reform welfare, give us a fair immigration system. She backs all those things, I want her in the House of Commons beside me voting for those things.” Cameron later found himself on the back foot when he was asked if Hutchings was being hidden away because she is a “loose cannon”. Cameron: “We’re not hiding her away, she’s right here.” Asked why Hutchings was not at the R5 hustings, Cameron said she had been with him at the visit to the cable manufacturer. A BBC television correspondent pointed out that he had been at both – and so she could have been too. Cameron: “I think the BBC has behaved badly and stupidly about this from everything I’ve heard. My understanding is that we were discussing with you for ages about the timing of the hustings and the fact that Maria wanted to be with me for this meeting. I do think this is a totally got-up thing by the BBC. You’re not the most important thing in this byelection. The candidates are.” The BBC seemed to contradict Cameron’s account of long-running discussions over the hustings arrangements, saying that all four main party candidates had been asked on 13 February to take part in the debate. It had only been told on Wednesday that Hutchings could not be there. BBC spokes: “This was too late for us to rearrange the broadcast, as the venue, the audience and the other candidates had all been confirmed.” O’Farrell said it did not matter that she was not at the hustings – as she was represented there by her government’s coalition partner (Guard) … ‘Hutchings snubs Eastleigh radio debate to go canvassing with PM’ (Ti) – Farron said the failure of Mrs Hutchings to attend demonstrated that “her claims to stay in touch are empty and worthless”. Farron: “You have to ask why the Conservative machine keeps trying to hide her away. This is a candidate who says on her leaflets that she puts local people before political ambition, yet the moment she gets to share the spotlight with her party leader all that is forgotten.” John O’Farrell wrote on Twitter: “Doing Radio 5 at 10am with other #Eastleigh candidates, except Maria Hutchings who’s locked in a cupboard at Tory HQ with tape on her mouth.” (Ti)

‘The Eastleigh by-election is a horrible warning for the Tories’ (Tele p24 oped) – Goodman warns that if the Tories lose in Eastleigh it will not be because of the candidate, or the chairman, or the strategy, but because of the lack of local grassroots support & volunteers. Shipping in every MP three times is fine but they don’t speak the language like local activists do. The Tories have no councillors here & in many areas of the country they are the third party. In seeking to broaden the party’s appeal, Cameron risks alienating the grassroots. He needs to appeal to local volunteers or he will lose the next elex (Tele)

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