Rochester & Strood: Poll will be on November 20th

The Rochester and Strood by-election will be held on the 20th of November

It has been triggered by Mark Reckless switching allegiance to Nigel Farage's UKIP party from the Conservative Party and resigning from the Commons to seek re-election as a Ukip MP.

It is considered a crucial test for David Cameron's party after Douglas Carswell comfortably won back his Clacton constituency last week and took his place in the Commons yesterday as the first MP elected under the Ukip banner.

The Prime Minister announced that the Tory candidate would be one of two local women - to be chosen in a postal "primary'' of voters in the Kent constituency.

In a letter to residents, the Conservative leader said Ukip wanted to "turn this election into a national media circus''.

"We want it to be about you and what you want for the future of this area. The decision is in your hands. There's no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.''

The candidates up for selection - in a poll open to voters regardless of which party they support - are local councillors Kelly Tolhurst and Anna Firth.

In his letter, Mr Cameron said Ms Tolhurst, who runs a marine survey business, "has seen the strain that excessive immigration has put on housing and our local services'' and would push for action to get it "under control''.

Fears over the scale of immigration are a significant factor in the surge in popularity that saw Ukip win May's European elections and then secure its first MP and come within a whisker of snatching a safe Labour Commons seat in Greater Manchester.

Ms Firth, a former barrister, would "fight for more police on our streets to tackle anti-social behaviour, better health services and a better deal for our armed forces, to whom we own so much'', Mr Cameron said.

Both candidates would take part in public hustings around the constituency before the selection vote, he said.

The party was unable to provide details of the timetable for the "open primary'' process.

"We're putting the people of Rochester and Strood in the driver's seat. No stunts: just a strong local candidate you can trust,'' Mr Cameron said.

A Labour source said of the chosen date: "They are going long because they are running scared of the voters.''

At the 2010 general election, Mr Reckless won the Kent seat as a Conservative with a majority of 9,953 over Labour. Ukip did not field a candidate.

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