A constituency poll conducted for the Liberal Democrats earlier this year put Lib Dem Jasper Gerard just 5% behind controversial Conservative incumbent Helen Grant MP in Maidstone and The Weald. That gap is (just) within the 5.4% margin of error, but more significantly is down from the 12% gap in 2010.
With the Lib Dems on 30% and the Conservatives on 35% in the constituency poll, the 14% each for Labour and Ukip will be coming under heavy tactical squeeze. But this contest is also very much about the record of the incumbent, Helen Grant. Me calling her “controversial” isn’t just a bit of tribalist cliche, but shown by the negative ratings Helen Grant has overall.
Just 28% of constituents have a favourable view of her, with 33% having a negative view – giving a net -5 rating, which is very poor for an incumbent (and a long way short of the sort of popularity her predecessor in the seat, Ann Widdecombe, had). By comparison, just over half the electorate say they’ve heard of Jasper Gerard – a very good result for a challenger – and overall he has a +21 rating. Amongst undecided voters he is on +27 and Helen Grant is on -10.
Issues such as her expense claims have taken a heavy toll on Helen Grant’s popularity, which is why Jasper Gerard is one of the best placed Lib Dems to gain a seat at this general election.
Hence too the fact that Maidstone is one of the few non-held seats which has had a Nick Clegg visit during the campaign: