Eastleigh – a by-election banana skin for Cameron

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.

Election results in Eastleigh since 1955

Election results in Eastleigh since 1955

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.

3 Responses to Eastleigh – a by-election banana skin for Cameron

  1. Nigel Farage does not appear to relish fighting this seat again (I think he fought it in 1994). Is he “frit” or does he feel that Cameron’s new Euro-septicism has shot his fox?

    Given the unpopularity of the Lib Dems, there is probably a natural Conservative majority, but it may well be split (what-ever the voting system) by UKIP, allowing the Liberals to hold the seat under First Past the Post. The by-election shall probably be nasty, brutish (and thankfully short?). The Conservatives may lose because it is fought under a voting system they support and the Liberals may win because it is fought under a voting system that they do not support.

    The notorious Liberal By-election machine will be doing its best to encourage UKIP to stand (it will be a failure of nerve by UKIP if they do not stand). If that same machine can stoke up the “Gay Marriage” issue such that a maverick independent traditional values conservative stands, it will. The Bermondsey by-election showed how the Liberals can play the anti-gay card to their advantage.


  2. Timothy (likes zebras) says:

    a Labour gain here would be miraculous.

    A Labour gain in Eastleigh would be very impressive, and would point to a comfortable majority at the next general election, but I don’t think it would be miraculous.

    I happen to actually know a voter in Eastleigh, who lodged with me last summer. She voted Lib Dem at the last general election as a tactical vote to stop the Tories – and was consequently not happy at all with the Coalition. I think that if there were a general election, she would probably still vote tactically for the Lib Dems, but as it is a by-election it is a bit different.

    Even if her vote for Labour lets the Tories win at the by-election, there is no chance of this leading to a majority Conservative government. Similarly, if she votes tactically for the Lib Dems, there is no chance that this will prevent a Tory from presenting the next three budget speeches.

    That’s why I think lots of voters like her will vote Labour, even if they would probably vote tactically for the Lib Dems in a general election. Apparently in the local election results Labour are on a consistent ~20% across the constituency. That’s the base they are building on, not the 10% from the 2010 GE.

    I can easily see the vote share for all three main parties existing in a band of 20-30%, with UKIP and others picking up the rest. If UKIP do well, if Labour run a strong campaign, if Coalition voters stay at home, I think there is a reasonable chance of Labour sneaking this with a mere 28% or so of the vote.

    What I expect is that the local Lib Dem get out the vote operation will see them retain the seat. But I think the mainstream media will be surprised with how well Labour do.

  3. Pingback: The NHA Party Scrubs Up To Deal With Tory Sleaze | ukgovernmentwatch

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