Eastleigh - Race to the finish line

25 Feb 2013

The clock is now ticking till the polling stations open on Thursday morning. The candidates are now getting as many supporters and ‘big guns’ out to campaign for their parties as possible. It is certainly hotting up, with all three main party leaders taking a lot of time out of their busy schedules to campaign in Eastleigh. It will certainly be an interesting election and the result is far too close to call with just under a week to go.

 

All the candidates have been named and it has certainly led to a big demand on printing in the area with parties trying to get leaflets, posters etc. printed and distributed to make sure that they can get as many votes for their candidate on Thursday.

The Conservatives have tried to give this as big a fight as they can possibly give. They know that if they win this seat, they still have some hope in 2015. Many of the Cabinet have gone down to Eastleigh, wearing their blue rosettes, hoping to secure Hutchings the seat in the Commons. Michael Gove, William Hague, and other top government ministers (on the blue side of the coalition) and even the London Mayor Boris Johnson have been in the area helping Hutchings’ bid for the seat. 

Cameron himself has also shown his true desire for the seat, making countless visits to the constituency – meeting residents and local businesses, in order to try and secure some more Tory support to attempt to get the Conservatives from a strong second place (2010 election) to a good top poll rating on the 28th. 

So for the blues, there was a mostly civil reception from voters but there was a case with Boris where some residents refused to shake hands or even to entertain a conversation with him. This is worrying, especially as Boris is widely tipped for the leadership of the party when Cameron flees the nest. Furthermore, one BBC interview with the PM accused the party of ‘hiding’ their candidate, which led to the Prime Minister calling the BBC ‘silly and stupid’, something which I’m sure won’t endear voters to the current leader. The issue for the Tories now is to try and drill into the Lib Dem support base and get their side of the story across about their plan for the economy and the country as a whole. This part of the campaign won’t be easy especially as just 6 days before the by-election the UK lost its coveted AAA credit rating – something the Chancellor always wanted to keep. This could mean even more of a struggle for the seat but that is the way of by-election politics. 

Labour is also using their team to gain the seat and give both the coalition parties a run for their money. But the Labour leader has a plan. Miliband is being tactful (a feature which often needs to be used by the leader of the opposition in mid-term). He is using this by-election as a chance to set in stone a vision of Britain under Labour beyond 2015. He has been accused of not setting any alternative to the government and not offering another plan. So, he has used Eastleigh to try and show some decisiveness. He announced plans of getting a vote on the mansion tax and was telling local voters and the press what he would do if elected. This is a tactic that could well pay off in two ways; a) a strong Labour plan could get his candidate elected, as well as b) show that Labour have looked at their faults and are now seeing how they can be more electable on a national level in seats they are not usually favoured in. Their candidate got into some controversy about remarks about a former PM, but controversy was also in the blue tent about comments regarding state education. They are both trying to do the right thing which is, forget comments from the past and focus on the people of Eastleigh who need a strong voice in Westminister.

From one side of the rainbow to another ... now we look at the campaign of the seat holders. How are the Lib Dems faring in the by-election? Well, Clegg seems confident that they can retain the seat and he has got some reasoning to feel confident. The area is Lib Dem. All of the seats on the council are yellow. They have a candidate who has some experience of representing local people and who forms part of the totally Lib Dem council. They also have a team of many local people in authoritative positions in local politics that can help keep the seat. There is however, an issue about the party as a whole. It has now started to become blighted by cases like Huhne and recent stories regarding the party’s former Chief Executive. The details behind the individual cases won’t mind the voters, what will do however, is a perception of a party the public can’t trust. Clegg needs to hold this seat so he can solidify the party’s standing and his own position as leader. 

Other parties have also been in full swing in the seat too. UKIP will hope to get another good result following excellent poll results in November’s by-elections. Other than the main four candidates from the big parties, there are ten other candidates in the election from lots of different political persuasions. You can meet them here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21575391 Despite the large number of candidates for this job, they all share something in common. What all the parties are doing is encouraging local voters to actually vote. This is important because it voter confidence hasn’t been helped by the fact that the reason this by-election is happening is because of a legal case and incident concerning the former MP. So turnout will be vital and I think minor parties like UKIP could see their share of the vote increasing. But although I agree with Farage that UKIP shouldn’t be written off in this election, I don’t see UKIP claiming victory in this constituency.

So what will the result be with just a few days left? Some commentators are speculating a very close race with the seat being a three party marginal come 2015. I think this could well be a plausible result. Labour are really upping their game in Eastleigh, Conservatives are showing their wide support base and the Lib Dems have been sat here for 19 years. I will stick by my hypothesis made in an article a few weeks ago that the seat will stay Liberal but with a smaller majority. 

I will do a by-election follow-up report after the election result is announced; looking at the result and its affect nationally, in Parliament and for the parties. I will also look at the numbers to see how this is a reflection on party tactics at mid-term and I will speculate upon what this spells for 2015. Who said by-elections were dull?

By Sam Kenward

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