They say you’ll never find a poor bookie. Well as the books open on the Eastleigh by-election one thing is clear – they have no idea who’ll win this by-election. You can get both the Lib Dems and the Tories at odds-on and also odds against. It is a straight two-horse race as it just isn’t a Labour area and the big question we’ll see for the first time in this new political climate is the effect of UKIP on a Tory/LD marginal.
I wrote last year that UKIP could actually be the saviour of the Lib Dems in 2015. It sounds mad but a strong UKIP could work very much if the Lib Dems favour. The majority of Lib Dem seats in the south are very much in Tory/LD marginals. Heck most of the marginals that the Lib Dems are in are with the Tories in the south. Now I hypothesise that a strong UKIP will pick up more votes from the Tories than they do the Lib Dems. Yes there will be Lib Dem protest votes that disappear to UKIP but the question is will these be more or less than those votes from disaffected Tories?
It should be noted that in the pathetic Police and Crime Commissioner Elections that in the borough of Eastleigh (which isn’t strictly the constituency ward but is the majority of) that the Lib Dem candidate got the most votes with the independent candidate second, Tories third and Labour fourth. The council is made up of 40 Lib Dems and Four Tories. No other party is represented. In 2012 Eastleigh actually saw two LD gains. So this is an area where the Lib Dem vote is strong and is holding up.
Chris Huhne took over the seat in 2005 and just about held on but in 2010 he increased his 600 odd majority to just short of 4,000. The seat was a three-way marginal but Labour’s portion of the vote has dissipated since their high point in the 1997 massacre where they were still a good 5,000 short of winning in Eastleigh. Labour are not winning Eastleigh so don’t throw your money away. This is now a two-way marginal with UKIP being the interesting party to watch.
I don’t think Chris Huhne’s actions will hurt too much with the electorate. It won’t help for sure but if the Lib Dems put forward a good local candidate who speaks well and campaigns hard then they it shouldn’t be a huge issue. I don’t see the Huhne personal vote as a big one. Just watching VoxPops on the local news and the general consensus is that he was an idiot and they are very disappointed in him personally – but not disappointed in the party.
This is without a shadow of a doubt the first by-election that will actually show something of this parliament. I know George Galloway won in Bradford West but that was very much a protest vote against Labour and an excellent local campaign. If The Lib Dems lose Eastleigh then they might well be in real trouble in 2015 but if David Cameron can’t take Eastleigh then there will be a large section of his party that will think they can’t win an outright majority in 2015.
Labour should sit back and watch the carnage and basically work out their 2015 strategy in large based on this. This by-election will be the largest indicator that we’ll get to how the Lib Dem vote is holding up against the Tories and in turn how UKIP will influence these vital Tory/LD marginal. After this by-election we’ll know so much more but for now all we can do is speculate and watch the drama unfold. Oh and Phone Bank, Phone Bank, Phone Bank…