Eastleigh was always set to be an interesting by-election. It was triggered by a resignation of a man who was very highly regarded in his party. When Chris Huhne stepped aside on 4th February, many expected the Lib Dems to lose the election because of his on-going case. Other situations also didn’t help the Lib Dems as the Rennard saga broke at just the wrong time for the party. However, the by-election threw up some very interesting results; most notably the Lib Dems still holding a majority, with UKIP now second, a huge relief to Nick Clegg and his party.
An initial conclusion we can draw from this is that the norm is changing. Main political party support is altering, with parties like UKIP ready to catch the votes. This has arguably been the most interesting by-election in this Parliament. We saw Corby, Rotherham etc. with UKIP gaining good positions and Labour trying to put pressure on the Coalition. But Eastleigh had so much riding on it, it wasn’t just a by-election which could be won or lost, it drew a line between weak and strong leadership, potentially a good and bad result in 2015, and it shows us the future for all parties involved.
The final result was intriguing. It was predicted to be massively interesting but it still threw some surprises. We saw the Liberal Democrat vote go down by nearly 12,000 votes since 2010, but, regardless of this, they are a big party in Eastleigh and loyalty is still there- a solid 13,342 votes meant they were victorious with a majority of 1771; just under half Huhne’s majority but still a win.
So the yellows won but what about their Coalition colleagues?
The Conservatives received 10,559 votes. They used the same candidate as last time and still got fewer votes. Cameron hoped to win when the Lib Dems were struggling, but the fight they gave wasn’t good enough and has seen them remain in the cold in Eastleigh. Further still, Cameron must be reeling having seen his party being beaten by UKIP as the Tories finished third.
Labour tried to manufacture themselves a good chance of winning the by-election; they got 5,000 votes in 2010 and wanted to beat it in Mid-Term. Miliband is learning but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to win the seat. Alas, his party came 4th with 4,088 votes, which shows a lot of work needs to be done if they want to win seats in the South of England in order to form the next government.
Indeed, disappointment for Labour, but what about UKIP?
It was unlikely to see UKIP win the seat. That is a fact. But they did well and their result gives a good indicator of potential results for the party in 2015. They came second with a solid 11,571. They stay second like in Rotherham and seem to be driving typical Tory voters away. My analysis of their campaign? I said originally, they needed to field a strong candidate to drive tory mindedvoters either to them or to the other two parties. They did this. They used not just Europe but other issues to unpick the Conservatives’ position as the second largest party in the constituency.
The impact? A very happy Nigel Farage. A speechless Maria Hutchings. And a disappointed Cameron who brandished it as a ‘protest’ vote. That is true. It was a protest vote at the lack of firm decisions on issues like Europe from all the main parties, but it demonstrates not just a protest but a move towards smaller parties with new ideas and new approaches. If this is a protest, then party leaders must expect many more protest votes to come in 2015…
Part 2 of this report will be published soon.
By Sam Kenward