This Thursday's local by-election in Meopham North, Gravesham (Kent) is surely the first ever to have had a poll commissioned on it. The Survation/ITN Meridian poll shows the Conservatives comfortably holding the seat, but with a significant showing from UKIP who seem set to finish second despite never standing there before.
Meopham North (Gravesham)
John Cubitt (Con)
Geoffrey Clark (UKIP)
Andrew Mylett (Lab)
David Gibson (LD)
At this stage I should probably declare an interest (á la Jim Murphy) as I have been doing freelance work on some unpublished Survation projects for a little while (hence the being randomly busy at short notice recently) and was involved in this poll (providing the crosstabs and some headline statistics).
The main reason anyone has been interested in this particular by-election in a seemingly safe Tory ward is the fact it has been dominated by a local housing issue. The Gravesham Council has announced plans, under the wonderfully newspeak title 'Local Development Planning: Core Strategy', that the Government's alterations to the planning system may lead to new houses being build on land currently designated as green belt. Specifically in Gravesham this involves an area in Meopham, where there happens to be a by-election campaign taking place! Unsurprisingly, the local residents are not very happy at the idea of a massive expansion of their village and are protesting against the plan.
UKIP have been campaigning hard against the green belt housing plan in this by-election and Nigel Farage has even popped by to join in with the canvassing. This poll shows they are making headway, if not quite enough to win a seat on the Council.
Not only will it be interesting to see how much UKIP eat into the Conservative vote in this by-election by how this will play out over the next few years. After all, building new houses is a long term policy and is likely to be still bubbling around in 2015. Gravesham is a key Parliamentary seat which held 'bellwether' status until 2005 and if the Conservatives lose votes over local issues like this Labour could well capitalise in a number of marginals.
I now have 2 days to wait and see if the decision not to weight by any past vote was right. After all, comparing this by-election to the previous result was problematic due to the fact only Labour and the Conservatives stood and weight by the General Election result is not only problematic but actually impossible as we (sadly) do not record ward level voting from counts.