Sunday, March 03, 2013

Labour was the big loser in Eastleigh

The Eastleigh by-election leaves things much where they were.

By this I mean that the frontier between Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters remains much where it has been since 1997. Some seats did change hands between the two parties in both directions, but that may have had more to do with the expenses scandal than anything else.

This suggests that the claim from Tim Farron that the Liberal Democrats could gain 30 seats from the Conservatives is overly optimistic, but it is certainly no more ridiculous than the widespread idea that the Liberal Democrats will be wiped out at the next election.

The Conservatives will have to ask themselves how they ended up with a candidate they had first to hide from the press and eventually ban from speaking to them at all. One explanation is that the wider Conservative organisation, for so long the party's strength, is now its weakness. Conservative members no longer represent prosperous society but are a strange subset of the angry and obsessed. These, after all, are the people who chose Iain Duncan Smith as party leader.

Whatever the truth of that, Maria Hutchings did confirm the observation that people described as "no nonsense" are usually full of it.

UKIP did well, but I suspect Nigel Farage's boast that they drew their support from across the other parties is a problem for them. Yes, they probably did attract the protest vote element of Liberal Democrat support, the anti-immigrant working class from Labour and the fruitcake wing of the Conservative Party, but that coalition may be hard to put together in other seats.

I would not go so far as John Rentoul who talks about "the paradox of Eastleigh":
It looked like a stunning success for Ukip but it was a grand failure. If Ukip had won the seat, Cameron might have had a terminal problem. But, despite Farage cheeking his establishment rivals, his party attracted just 28 per cent of the vote. If Ukip cannot win a protest by-election in Hampshire, with the coalition parties splitting their vote, and the economy becalmed, it is unlikely that it can win anywhere.
because I think the party might do better in a longer campaign in a safe Conservative seat where it could emerge as the main challenger - Alun Wyburn-Powell may not agree with me.

But the clearest message from Eastleigh is that it was a bad result for Labour. In the 1994 by-election the party came second: this time it came fourth with no increase in its vote over the 2012 general election.

Don't take my word for it: read George Eaton in the New Statesman on 13 February. He began by saying:
Labour's decision to select John O'Farrell as its candidate in the Eastleigh by-election is being hailed by many commentators as a game-changer.
he concluded:
having declared itself to be the party of "one nation" and having vowed to win over voters in the south, Labour has no choice but to campaign hard. Were it to finish in fourth place behind UKIP, as one poll suggested was possible, it would be a disastrous result for Ed Miliband.
"Disastrous" may be too strong, but the Eastleigh result does suggest Labour has won back no ground in the South of England since the last general election.

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