The Potential Fall Out From Eastleigh

by George_East on February 28, 2013

Eastleigh mapWith less than four hours until the polls close and with the Allthatsleft kiss of death firmly planted on John O’Farrell’s lips, what are the implications of the potential results of the Eastleigh By-Election tonight?  The answer to that, is they could be pretty entertaining.

As I write there are three potential victors in the by-election, with a late surge for UKIP dominating the twitterati and the newspaper commentariat over the last 24 hours, the expected two horse race may be about to be blown wide apart. 

The most recent polls taken over last weekend would suggest that the result will be a Lib Dem victory, but with a huge fall in the Lib Dem vote from Chris Huhne’s 46.5% in 2010 to something around about the 30% mark; the Tories in second, again with a huge fall in their vote from just under 40% in 2010 to the high 20s and UKIP third in the low 20s, with a massive increase in their vote.

However, even the most recent polls taken in the constituency were taken largely prior to the Rennard scandal becoming a significant news item.   All have the polls that have been done in the constituency have been based on very small numbers, given high margins of error in the vicinity of 5% and because of the UKIP surge (they lost their deposit with 3.6% of the vote in 2010) there is very little upon which to be confident that the weighting of the UKIP vote has been done properly, in the polls that have been carried out.

So looking at the possible results, I think the least impactful would be a narrow Tory victory over the Lib Dems, with UKIP comfortably in third.   This would give Cameron the victory he was expected to have in the seat when the by-election was first called and would be easily spinnable by Clegg in the circumstances of the by-election.  This is the result that most pundits expected when the by-election was called and although there will be some talk about Cameron being safe and Clegg being under threat as a result, this I think will be pretty much steady as she goes.

The next lest impactful of the possible results is a narrow Lib Dem victory over the Tories, with UKIP comfortably in third.  This is way more significant than the result being the opposite way round.  The message it will send is that the collapse in the Lib Dems’ national vote does not mean that they are doomed in seats in which the challenger is the Tories (which is most of the Lib Dems’ seats, after all).  The Grant Shapps/Michael Green victory strategy is predicated on taking 20 of the Lib Dems’ current seats (including Eastleigh) at the general election.   If the Tories cannot beat the Lib Dems in the circumstances of this by-election, having chucked absolutely everything at the seat (up to 60 Tory MPs a day have descended on the poor benighted folk of Eastleigh), how on earth are they going to be able to take 20 seats off of them in a general election.  Cameron will immediately come under fire from the right if this happens (as the UKIP 20% will be pointed to as splitting the vote on the right).

This result though is nowhere near as toxic to David Cameron as a result which sees UKIP push the Tories into third place.  Michael Crick has been scenting a UKIP surge for a couple of days now,  William Hill make UKIP second favourites and there is already a degree of expectation management going on in Tory circles (check out the Telegraph blogs for evidence of that).   If UKIP push the Tories into third place, I predict we will see the discontent that was brewing prior to the EU referendum announcement (which quietened the right for about 10 minutes) coming back at  a far higher volume.  The difficulty for the right is, of course, that the Tories practically picked a UKIPer as their candidate (Maria Hutchings is pro-leaving the EU, anti-gay marriage and highly critical of public services like state education).  Tim Montgomerie was already seeking to shift the blame form Hutchings to the national campaign in a blog earlier today on Conservative Home, suggesting that the Tory civil war is beginning already.

Of course, the real pass the popcorn result is a UKIP victory, with the Tories in third place.  If UKIP pull it off it will be seismic within Tory ranks.  The pressure for hard right policies to see of UKIP will increase exponentially and there is a very real prospect of a Tory leadership challenge.  David Davis has already warned of the consequences if the Tories come third (even if he ruled out any kind of leadership challenge).   Much of the Tory party do not see David Cameron as one of their own and are itching to resume the civil wars of the John Major era.   

For the record my prediction:

  1. Lib Dems 31%
  2. UKIP 28%
  3. Tories 27%
  4. Labour 9%

So later tonight, I advise that you pour yourself a nice large glass of red wine (to show solidarity with John O’Farrell), put your feet up, turn on the BBC by-election coverage and let the fun commence…..

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie_East_West March 1, 2013 at 9:49 am

Well done George – almost spot on there.
Right then, who do you tip for the Grand National?

There are a number of lessons from Eastleigh, some of which have been highlighted by the Independent’s Owen Jones + a few of my own:-

1. It is now near inconceivable that Cameron can win next election – and Tories are ruthless with loser leaders. Expect a leadership challenge soon.
2. Labour had about as much chance of winning Eastleigh as Tories do in Middlesborough or Govan, or Scotland playing the All Blacks in Auckland.
3. The idea that UKIP’s rise is all about the EU is dead. Instead, it is right-wing anti-establishment populism on the march.
4. Nigel Farage is correct – the main parties are bland and indistinguishable.
5. Labour need to move slightly to the left and convey a set of policies in plain English.
6. Lib Dems are crowing about scraping a seat that, if they had not won, they would not have won anywhere.
7. There is room for a new political movement in the UK. The model of existing party politics is outdated, corrupt, bland and ideologically bankrupt.
8. Some things never change. All of the political parties are claiming some sort of victory in Eastleigh. They still do not get it.

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Eddie Kaye March 1, 2013 at 11:24 am

See a Tory Leadership challenge, or a successful Tory leadership challenge soon Charlie? Mostly, they do at least wait for the leader’s position to be either untenable (Thatcher, MacMillan), or until they have actually lost the election (everyone since Major, plus Ted Heath). The Euro-sceptic loony right will spend much of the rest of the Parliament sabre rattling (when do they not?) The obsession certain quarters have with Boris are pie in the sky (the chance of a safe Tory seat coming free in the next 12 months are remote I would think). Even if a stalking horse could be found, who will step out should it weaken Cameron’s position in a first ballot? I just can’t see it doing anything other than making their chances of an outright majority even slimmer, trouble is if I can spot that, so can they.

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George_East March 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I don’t think there will be a leadership challenge (David Davis, one of the most high profile potential successors, ruled one out) – my guess is that you are right Eddy, there will be a lot more sabre rattling.

As for Borismania, I think he is far too savvy to attempt to run against Cameron. He would get a safe seat if he wanted it (there are plenty of Tories who would vacate their seats for him I think) but as an electoral defeat looks more and more likely for Cameron, Boris will bide his time with a view to taking over in 2015.

Politics is a zero sum game, a Tory defeat means a Labour victory.

I like Owen Jones a lot – he is a refreshing (if absurdly young looking) alternative to the usual Rentoul style drivel about the only way for a party of the centre left is to look ever rightwards.

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