Eastleigh: the results

by Jackie_South on March 2, 2013

eastleigh result iconsMy colleague Ray North has already given some analysis of how the parties should feel about the outcome of the Eastleigh by-election, but here is look at the results in a bit more detail.  You can find our original profile of the election here.

First of all, a comparison of the votes cast at the by-election and at the last general election, with the 2010 figures showing as the first column in the lighter colour.

eastleigh BE13 result chart

Turnout was high for a by-election, at 52.8%: given the short notice this is perhaps more remarkable. But it is a lot less than the 69.3% in 2010.

The Lib Dems lost over 11,000 votes between the elections, whilst the Tories’ vote halved to 10,559.

Labour lost just over a thousand votes, leaving them at the same share of the vote as in 2010.  UKIP, in contrast, managed to sextruple their tally of votes.

Looking at that as shares of the vote, the Lib Dems and Conservatives lost 14% each whilst the UKIP gained 24%.  The other 4% lost by the Coalition parties went to the ten minor parties in the race.  The net swing (between the top two parties) was a massive 19.2% from the Liberal Democrats to UKIP.

eastleigh result pie

Nick Clegg today claimed that this was a “stunning victory” for the Liberal Democrats. This seems a hyperbolic claim for just about holding on to a constituency where they still managed to win every council seat in 2012, despite their dire results elsewhere in those elections, and given a 14% plummet in their vote.

Two things saved Clegg’s blushes: the fact that the Conservatives had an equally precipitous drop in support and that the Lib Dems were able to pull out an extraordinary ground campaign – in particular to get postal votes cast by the weekend before the Rennard story gathered any steam.

UKIP pulled of a massive coup, and it appears that on election day itself actually managed to get more votes than the Liberal Democrats.  Clegg was wise to call the election so quickly: most commentators agree that another week would have given them victory.

There appear to be three elements to UKIP’s success.  First, they have become the lightning rod for votes against all three main parties in a constituency that has no love of Labour and has fallen out of love with the two Coalition parties.  Second, it is clear that immigration has touched a raw nerve there.  Finally, they chose a strong candidate in Diane James.  Watching the Channel 4 hustings on Monday, it was Hutchings that came across as the frothy-mouthed uber-right candidate and James as the sober but personable, slightly patrician, high Tory.

The Conservatives have most to be upset about, although the bouncy Grant Shapps did a very good job of putting a brave face on it as the votes were counted.  Maria Hutchings was a car crash candidate: even with a drop in Tory support due to their current national unpopularity, they could have still won here, given the 14% plummet in Lib Dem support, if they had chosen a bit more wisely.  But a 14% drop is pretty catastrophic when they need to gain ground nationally if they are to rule on their own.

Labour, in contrast, looked pretty downbeat in the results show.  Fourth, and not gaining any support since 2010, is pretty bad, but they were never going to win here and in by-elections there is always a squeeze on parties who are seen as no-hopers.  The Lib Dems worked hard to squeeze the Labour vote: it was noticable that they were the ones doing most to drag out the quote about Thatcher from Farrell’s Things Can Only Get Better, which, lest we forget, was actually meant to be a humorous look back at his eighties past rather than any sort of political manifesto.

But Chuka Umanna was shockingly bad on the TV sofa.  He allowed Andrew Neil and Shapps to talk again and again how bad this wa for Labour compared to the 1994 by-election result.  Here are the points Umanna should have been making:

  • the June 1994 by-election was exceptional for Labour even in the 1992-1997 Parliament: held three weeks after the death of John Smith, there was a huge sympathy vote for Labour at this and the other elections held on the same day in East London.
  • the boundaries in 1994 were very different: it included Woolston ward in Southampton, which is still a safe Labour ward.  Woolston’s 10,000 voters were removed in 1997: even in 1994, Labour would have finished third on these boundaries.
  • in 1994, the constituency had been Tory since its creation, and in 1992 they were well ahead.  It was therefore less clear then than now to voters who was best placed against the Conservatives.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris March 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

Two points to note.

First, the Liberal Democrat share of the vote is the lowest to win a bye-election in a geographical seat since 1918, only beaten by the 1946 vote in the now-discredited Combined Universities seat, where graduates had a plural vote: not the hallmarks of a great victory.

Second, the Liberal Democrats would have lost had the election been on AV. Why have press commentators missed that?

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George_East March 2, 2013 at 10:06 am

I think the AV outcome is actually a bit of an unknown, particularly with UKIP rather than the Tories coming second. I agree that it is more likely the Tories would have won with AV. However, they went all out to scupper it, so can hardly complain that their electoral system of choice led to the result it did.

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Chris March 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

I agree that the AV argument is at strongest unproven and at weakest unknown. It remains only a guess that enough Tory votes would have gone to UKIP for them to win the seat.

My AV point rests on the idea that this by-elelction shows that the polarisation between the Liberals and Conservatives which has built up over the last twenty years has not been diminished by the Coaltiton. If the overwhelming majority of Conservative’s would have voted Tory first, Coalition second, my AV point falls.

I agree, of course, with the point that had the Tories come second, a Tory AV victory would have been more plausible.

By the way, I am a long time admirer of your site, and (as an academic working in this area), I have tremendous respect for your contribtion to political and electoral analysis.

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George_East March 2, 2013 at 11:23 am

Jackie, I think your scenario is very plausible – that the consequence of AV would have been a ‘clean’ UKIP victory. I’m not completely sure about Tory second preferences, in that I think a lot of the more traditionally Tory voters already voted UKIP. The question is how many of the remaining Tory votes are Cameroon style economically conservative, socially liberal voters. Eastleigh demographics would suggest that this is not likely to be a huge cohort, but given, for example, the marjorites of all party’s voters who are now pro-gay marriage, it may not be as simple as that.

Chris, that is great and we are always glad to have contributions from our readers. Do keep commenting!

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