Eastleigh – a by-election banana skin for Cameron
February 6, 2013 3 Comments
Chris Huhne’s resignation should present a fairly straightforward by-election, but then again by-elections are rarely straightforward.
The electoral arithmetic suggests that this is Liberal Democrat versus Conservative fight. Chris Huhne enjoyed a 7.2% majority in 2010, the Clegg bounce pushing this up from 2005’s 1.1%. Labour were a distant third three years ago, although this was against the backdrop of Labour’s worst national election performance for a very long time (since 1918 I think).
Yet, even when Labour is doing well we are still third here. At our 1997 zenith we were still some 8.3% away from victory (and 6.9% behind the second-paced Tories). Labour’s sole second in the last thirty years came in the by-election following Stephen Milligan‘s bizarre death.
David Cameron hopes for a second term, and one that will deliver him from coalition. To achieve this his party has to make gains, and Eastleigh is exactly the type of seat his party should be targeting. They face a Liberal Democratic party that has haemorrhaged members and supporters since 2010. Their former MP is disgraced and their grip on this seat is fragile to say the least.
The Tories are not without problems, perhaps increased somewhat after last night’s gay marriage vote. They are in Government, and governing parties always fare badly in by-elections. However, the Lib Dems are also in Government and so this unwritten rule should not apply.
Ed Miliband and Labour will be hoping for an improved showing on 2010, but a Labour gain here would be miraculous. I expect a Conservative gain, to envisage anything else, especially amongst Tory ranks, is to acknowledge the failure to come in 2015.
And as for Nick Clegg, his fate will not lie in the hands of Eastleigh’s electorate. Lose, and he will blame Chris Huhne and the dreadful press he has been getting. Win, and he will rightly hail this as a halt to sliding Parliamentary fortunes for his party.
This by-election is a veritable banana skin for Cameron. I think his party will take Eastleigh, but it is going to be a very nervous ride for them.