Page last updated at 07:40 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 08:40 UK

By-election watch: The 10p 'fix'

By Ben Wright
Political correspondent, BBC News, in Crewe

Jack Straw with the Labour candidate and David Cameron with the Tory candidate
The parties' big guns have been out campaigning in Crewe and Nantwich

So, has a key plank of the Conservative campaign in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election now been sawn in half and thrown into the wood chipper?

Tory party leaflets here focus heavily on the rising cost of living and the scrapped 10p tax rate.

But now, with re-imbursements all round, there is a chance the issue has been neutralised.

The Conservatives certainly think the Treasury has been spurred into action by this by-election, and Labour canvassers in Crewe will be glad to have clarity on the question of compensation.

The fact that Labour's candidate, Tamsin Dunwoody, spoke to Alistair Darling just before the chancellor's announcement will be sold on the doorstep here as evidence of her clout.

But, after talking to two disillusioned life-long Labour voters in Crewe's town centre, it seems the party still has more to do.

Life-long Labour supporters on their plans to vote for others

In their view it was the original decision to scrap the tax band without proper compensation that was the final straw.

If others here share that view then the issue could still cause big trouble for Labour.

And the Conservatives are confident that 10p has acquired a symbolic significance far beyond the 5.3 million people directly affected.

Some of their strategists say it has become the cover, the policy excuse, for people to now turn against the government for a whole variety of reasons.

The main campaigns continue to circle each other here without really locking horns.

It is a local focus for Labour, national discontent for the Conservatives, a mixture of the two for the Liberal Democrats. One tactic that has caused a skirmish is Labour's decision to highlight the wealthy background of the Tory candidate, Edward Timpson.

The Conservatives took out a writ stopping Labour using a photo-shopped snap of Mr Timpson wearing a top hat.

David Cameron told journalists in London that this all smacked of Old Labour - "old fashioned and divisive". Expect more of this malarkey.

* Spotted in Giovanni's restaurant near Crewe station on Tuesday night: a cheerful trio of Conservative MPs - Michael Fabricant (the Tories' second most famous shaggy-haired blonde), John Redwood and Gerald Howarth - enjoying red wine, pizza and ice-cream. There must be a by-election on.


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