Who is the Tories’ candidate for Eastleigh?
The Conservatives' choice to select Maria Hutchings for their crucial by-election fight in Eastleigh is a curious one, not least because she already failed to win the seat.
Hutchings was parachuted into the constituency, having uprooted from Essex, ahead of the 2010 general election. As a colourful woman candidate running for a party expected to take Downing Street, she had been predicted to wipe out incumbent Chris Huhne's pitiful 568 majority.
The signs were all around. In the Lib Dems 'golden triangle' in the south, Romsey and Winchester would both fall to the Tories in 2010. But in Eastleigh, Huhne increased his majority to 3,864.
Hutchings was a self-professed life-long Labour supporter who switched to the Tories after a well-publicised altercation with Tony Blair over plans to close her autistic son’s Essex special school. Later reports suggested there were no plans to shut the school. Regardless, she came out the row very impressed with the then-prime minister.
"Tony Blair was very, very attentive. He listened to everything we had to say," she said. "He felt sorry for what we had to go through. He said that he would be looking into all this personally."
Alas, three weeks later she was at the Tory party spring conference, after being invited by then-leader Michael Howard. A year later, she was selected for Eastleigh and the rest is barely-remembered history.
She is likely to run on a campaign to stop overdevelopment in the leafy, wealthy constituency, and prevent Eastleigh becoming part of Southampton Unitary Authority. But behind the harmless local politics, there lurk some potentially problematic views.
Chief amongst these is her opinion of immigration. "With an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers then the pot is reduced for the rest of us," she once said. "I don't care about refugees. I care about my little boy and I want the treatment he deserves."
That comment was particularly strange given Hutchings' university background. Her campaign website says she went to "London University to study a BA in dance and religion. But politics was too strong a pull and she finally read, and was awarded, a BA (hons) in social science and public administration. Her options were in social psychology and race relations."
Her views on abortion might also make centrists wince. In a Guardian interview she said she believed in reducing the time limit to ten weeks.
Tory chairman Grant Shapps described her as someone "people in Eastleigh can trust". He added: "Maria Hutchings will be a brilliant local MP that people in Eastleigh can trust. She is already working hard for local people and is in tune with the community." As for Hutchings, she is " humbled and proud" to be selected.
Labour can't even find a candidate prepared to run in the Eastleigh seat, so the Tories should perhaps be forgiven for opting for someone who has already failed to win. Current polling shows Hutchins stands little chance if the debate focuses on local issues, where the Lib Dems remain popular. Her best hope now is for a campaign on national issues. She may get it: early polls show a modest Tory lead.