Conservative chief whip Michael Gove visited Chad and the Hucknall Dispatch offices on Friday during a whistle-stop tour of the area to lend his backing to Sherwood MP Mark Spencer.
The controversial former Education Secretary has been tasked with shoring up party support amid reports that a third of Tory MPs are defying Prime Minister David Cameron’s demand to campaign against UKIP in the Rochester and Strood by-election.
Mr Gove denied there were concerns about Mr Spencer’s allegiances, saying ‘Mark is a brilliant MP and he’s a Conservative to the core.’
Said Mr Gove: “My job is to make sure the party at Westminster is in touch with MPs at the coal face.”
He praised Mr Spencer as a ‘brilliant constituency MP’ who has ‘recruited voters from other parties’.
“The critical thing is UKIP is a relatively new party and they are benefiting from the weakness of other opposition parties. They are able to say ‘we are not in Government and we are not tied by the same barriers’.”
More than 100 Conservative MPs are yet to make a campaigning visit to Rochester and Strood, less than an hour’s travel from Parliament, despite the PM’s demand that every MP makes at least three visits.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported how Mr Gove is now ‘naming and shaming’ those who refuse in daily ‘Roll of Honour’ emails, which list how many visits each MP has made.
But Mr Gove told Chad that the Conservative Party had to make sure ‘people recognise the next election as a straight choice.’
“You have got to go all out to win,” he said. “If you want Conservative policies - if you want taxes cut - you have to vote Conservative to be certain of getting that.”
He compared Mr Spencer to underfire Labour leader Ed Miliband, who he described as a ‘professional politician who has never done anything else in his life’.
“If you come from a background like that it’s much more difficult to understand what the average man in the street wants,” he said.
He said that Mr Spencer entered poitics out of a sense of public service and because he believes ‘in helping the people he represents.’
Ex-journalist Mr Gove also asked Chad and Dispatch editor Phil Bramley about the newspapers’ circulations and, flicking through copies of the Dispatch, noted the its policy of using social media to keep in touch with readers: “You don’t need to go out and do old-fasioned vox-pops because the comments come to you.”
Discussing the newspaper’s ‘patch’, Mr Spencer said there were extremes of wealth in his Sherwood constituency.
He said: “If you compare the south of Sherwood with the north they are chalk and cheese. That’s one of the problems. Places like Ollerton are masked by posh villages and you struggle to make the case for the poorer areas.”