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Eastleigh: the different results and what they’d mean

28 February 2013

So now that the polls have closed in Eastleigh, here are the likely scenarios for tonight’s Eastleigh by-election result, and what each combination will mean:

1. Tories
2. Liberal Democrats

It’s stating the obvious that this is the best outcome for David Cameron, showing that the Tories can win in those target Lib Dem seats, and that they can beat a confident UKIP, no matter what grumpy backbenchers say. But it’s a disaster for Nick Clegg: in fact, any scenario other than victory is a disaster for Nick Clegg.

For Nigel Farage, coming third when his party has been so confident, particularly in the last 24 hours, about a surge in support, will be a dampener, but it will also confirm that he was right to not have stood himself and face a second defeat in the same constituency.

1. Liberal Democrats
2. Conservatives

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Coming second for Cameron would be a blow as it would suggest that Grant Shapps’ strategy of targeting Lib Dem seats is going to be harder to accomplish than originally thought, given this by-election was triggered by one Lib Dem scandal and overshadowed by another. The Tories will need to develop the same kind of on-the-ground intelligence in these Lib Dem constituencies that gave Clegg’s party the advantage in this by-election. But it wouldn’t be as big a blow as it could have been, given David Davis’ remarks on the Daily Politics yesterday. Davis said:

‘I think if we came third, it would be a crisis. I think that’s the case, and if it’s a close second with UKIP on our tail it will also be uncomfortable. Let’s be clear, it’s not going to dislodge David Cameron, he’s going to be there until the next election, but the simple truth is that it will make things more uncomfortable in the House of Commons.’

So unwittingly Davis has given the party leadership some leeway as coming second might be annoying but it isn’t a crisis.

1. Liberal Democrats
3. Conservatives

Good for Clegg, crisis for Cameron, victory for Nigel Farage, who will give the Tories the fright of their life. Expect open revolt in the Conservative party, and calls from backbenchers to move policy further to the right, even if the maths shows that UKIP bled protest votes from all the parties rather than right-leaning Tories.

2. Liberal Democrats
3. Conservatives

Farage would say this (still reasonably unlikely but no impossible: remember Galloway’s Bradford West victory) scenario shows how polls and the media continually underestimate UKIP. Those who are arguing that Farage would be kicking himself all the way to 2015 if UKIP won this seat forget the effect that this victory would have on the party. It wouldn’t just be a one-man band, led by the media-savvy Farage with a band of unruly activists running behind him. Many have remarked on how slick and professional Diane James is. She holds her own among the other candidates, and this is a good move for UKIP as it shows the party doesn’t have to resort to fielding ‘fruitcakes’ as Cameron would call them. Plus Farage could ride on the crest of UKIP’s success into another seat in 2015, without the nerves of being the first from his party to make a serious attempt at doing so.

This would terrify the Conservatives. Not only would they have failed to win one of their target Lib Dem seats after two scandals, they will have lost it to a party that ostensibly sits on their right, even if UKIP has stolen votes from all parties as a protest party as much as anything else. There is also, in any scenario other than Tory victory, the sense that the Conservatives need to accept that their selection process for the A-list was significantly flawed. Maria Hutchings is an A-list candidate, yet has struggled in the media spotlight. She might have been a good 2015 candidate, without the concentrated attention, the endless shadowing by sketchwriters and high-profile radio hustings. But the A-list was supposed to comprise accomplished performers and talented individuals who could boost the party. There may well be a debate after Eastleigh about whether this method really worked.

It would send the Liberal Democrats into meltdown. Anything other than a Lib Dem victory in Eastleigh will be a disaster for Nick Clegg, unlike Cameron who has a small amount of leeway. For the Lib Dems to lose Eastleigh when all its council wards are represented by Lib Dems, and particularly given their confidence today, would cause their party leader no end of grief ahead of the spring conference next weekend as activists and MPs would start to wonder which seats they really do stand a chance of holding in 2015. It would also lead to a great deal of further discussion about the timing of the Rennard allegations.

As for Labour, they’re not in any of those lists, which is in itself significant. The party has been pushing the line for a while now that it expects to come fourth, which seems to have worked well as an expectation management strategy as little attention has been paid to the significance of this result for Labour. Labour coming 4th a few months after the launch of Ed Miliband’s One Nation does not bode well for the party’s southern mission. If the party finds itself lurking anywhere near 10 per cent of the vote, this attempt to gain seats in the South looks even more shaky. Don’t forget that this isn’t a typical Home Counties seat with a Tory incumbent and the Lib Dems in second. Labour came second in this constituency in 1994, John Denham is the neighbouring MP, Eastleigh is an industrialised part of Hampshire, and instead of stealing Lib Dem voters, the party is losing support from its own patch to UKIP.

And though there has been significant expectation management from Ed Miliband’s camp, the party hasn’t exactly relaxed on the campaigning front. It made a big play of its 10p tax band and mansion tax policy, even managing to frighten the Lib Dems into dithering over where they stand on quite the dullest of opposition day votes. And the party parachuted its own ‘A-list’-style candidate into the seat, but with little effect.

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Show comments
  • Stalwart Steve

    Why is the Spectator always using the word ‘protest’ in connection with the word ‘UKIP’, as if a vote for UKIP doesn’t really mean anything and is a holding position before the elector votes for a real party?

    This really shows the nature of the Spectator editorial line. It is not journalism, it is propaganda for a certain leftist position which only has meaning inside the Westminster bubble.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      You’ve grasped it.

  • wycombewanderer

    Jesus if that scumbag endorsed by miliband is an A list candidate for the truly nasty party; that is frightening!

    • Fergus Pickering

      No it isn’t. It’s very cheering.

  • Daniel Maris

    Apologies – you did mention Labour!

    • David Lindsay

      This is a self-inflicted wound to Labour. Nationally, that party has long enjoyed a commanding poll lead. Last year, it won council seats in Southern villages that it had not even contested since the 1970s, if ever. But Labour came third or below in 211 constituencies in 2010, mostly places where it always does, and in most of those pretty distantly.

      Imagine a formation which was fully aware that someone needed to keep Labour on track or else stand ready to replace it. Properly organised and sufficiently funded,
      such a formation could expect to win in 2015 about one third of those seats, i.e., around 70. That would be enough to make a very significant difference, even to hold the balance of power in a hung Parliament. But it could only happen if the unions stumped up the cash, and if Labour stood aside in that formation’s favour.

      That formation could and should also fill a very British gap, for a party anchoring
      the Left while engaging fully in the battle of ideas at every level of cultural life and of the education system. Co-ordinating broad-based and inclusive campaigns for human rights and civil liberties, for peace, for environmental responsibility, and for the defence and extension of jobs, services and amenities.

      Labour is reverting to its historical norm as the voice and vehicle of a many-rooted
      social democratic patriotism in all directions. Inclusive of social and cultural conservatives as well as social and cultural liberals. Rural as well as urban and suburban voices. Provincial as well as metropolitan contributions. Religious as well as secular insights. The 2010 intake is very largely “classic Labour”, the boys in their dads’ suits having decided to sit out the hard work of Opposition.

      But Labour still needs a friendly critic and a critical friend.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …or maybe it needs you to go and lie down a while.

        • David Lindsay

          I would tell you what the Republican Party needed. But it is beyond help. Nothing can save it now.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            So it’s like the LibLabCon threesome, eh?

            • David Lindsay

              Quite possibly.

              No, the Lib Dems have been given a bit of a boost by this, even if has come to something when they need to take heart from having held a seat for the sixth time running.

              And Labour is still going to win comfortably in 2015; this is a very eccentric constituency, which has now returned a Lib Dem MP six times in a row.

              But the Conservative Party is a whole other story.

      • Fergus Pickering

        In your dreams, Lindsay.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    What Dave needs to do, with all due speed, is ditch that stupid, abstract, post modern blowfunk of a sketch of a badly trimmed hedge bush, as shown in that above photograph.

    Nobody serious would have that as a symbol. That’s a trifling marketeer’s masterpiece, for certain.

    • Tom Tom

      Steve Bell in today’s Guardian shows Cameron and his priorities

      • Fergus Pickering

        Steve Ball never shows anything but a luvvies’ agenda. Ditto the bleedin pinkoes Social Workers’ Green Gazette.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Sorry Isobel,

    if UKIP finish 2nd, never mind 1st, THAT would demonstrate the disconnect you lot in the Bubble have. It would demonstrate either the level of deception the media are willing to inflict on us or it’s utter lazy ineptitude – or both.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Both, I should think.

    • dalai guevara

      The votes on the right are split – is it worth getting one’s head round this simple fact?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        I think what you mean to say is that the votes on the Left are split, amongst the LibLabCon threesome.

        • dalai guevara

          Well, I would have to agree with you there – if the belief in unquestioned privatisation agendas and trickle down economics were lefty policies, yes I then would have to agree.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            It’s anybody’s guess what that means.

            What isn’t a guess is that the LibLabCon axis advocates for a common agenda.

            • dalai guevara

              It means that trickle down economics are not a lefty position and that nonetheless, the votes on the right are split.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Again, as the LibLabCon are on the same agenda, that would mean the Left is split.

              • Tom Tom

                Inequality rose dramatically under Blair the most successful Labour Leader in history. You must be so proud !

          • Tom Tom

            They were Blair-Brown Policy and Blair was the most successful leader in history and grateful sponsors have rewarded him for his success as Labour Leader. You probably think Gordon Brown was a greater star in the firmament. He certainly had his Clause IV Moment nationalising Banks

      • Tom Tom

        It seems to hurt Labour the most then….they must start competing with the MOnster Loony Party instead of “right-wing” parties for votes. With 10% I doubt Morgan Stanley wil be sponsoring Milibands much longer

  • Daniel Maris

    Well Grayling didn’t sound at all confident on TV the other night. I find it difficult to believe that the Conservatives can win. Especially as I have a vision of the constituency being full of divorcees who actually feel sympathy for Huhne and his wife. So rule out that scenario.

    I agree anything less than victory will be disastrous for Clegg who hasn’t had a good week.

    You miss out two scenarios:

    E. Tories/UKIP/Lib Dem

    F. UKIP/Tories/Lib Dem

    You don’t mention Labour. This is going to be a bad night for them whatever happens. What possessed them to appoint washed out Farrell? – a man who has confessed shamelessly to having fantasised about the IRA finishing off a democratically elected Prime Minister. It shows bad judgement by Miliband. There is no way the Tories can win the next election, but Miliband could certainly lose it for Labour.

    • David Lindsay

      Her legend was burnished no end by her “miraculous” escape from an assassination attempt by an organisation with which she was in continuous contact while angrily insisting that she never spoke to it. Lady Tebbit should take up the matter with Lady Thatcher.

  • MirthaTidville

    Would love `D` but option `C` would be more than acceptable..

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