Politics Magazine

Eastleigh: The Winners And Losers

Posted on the 01 March 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

I am aware that I, as with large sections of the British media, have a tendency to go on about byelections. And on a day when the US is struggling with another artificially engineered cuts crisis, the EU is attempting to impose a cap on bankers’ bonuses, and Italian leaders still struggle to construct a government, a byelection mayn’t be the world changing event I should discuss. However, I promise to write about such important issues in good time.

You see, the results of the Eastleigh contest are cause for concern:

Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat)
13,342 (32.06%, -14.48%)

Diane James (UKIP) 11,571
(27.80%, +24.20%)

Maria Hutchings (Conservative)
10,559 (25.37%, -13.96%)

John O’Farrell (Labour) 4,088
(9.82%, +0.22%)

Danny Stupple (Independent) 768
(1.85%, +1.56%)

Dr Iain Maclennan (National
Health Action Party) 392 (0.94%)

As I predicted, Labour did fail to make much of an impact in this very middle class constituency. We all knew that this would happen, though some seemed to imagine that John O’ Farrell’s fame as a satirist would provide him with a significant electoral advantage over a local Labourite. No, the real losers from this result are the Conservatives, who identified Eastleigh as one of the 20 seats they must gain in 2015 in order to scrape an overall majority. Coming third is not the encouraging sign that they were hoping for. If they cannot overturn a slender majority for a scandal-ridden party whose popularity has halved nationally, where can they win?

They did reselect Maria Hutchings as their candidate, a candidate from the Tory right who has been likened to Sarah Palin in a number of circles, based on her severe social conservatism and the number of poorly considered claims she has made. However, one would think this wouldn’t damage her electoral prospects as she lost out to a candidate from the absurd hard right. And this is the part which has made the major parties nervous: UKIP have surged into 2nd place (on 27%, their best ever parliamentary election result), turning the area into a Lib-UKIP marginal.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader (who decided not to run himself) made the cheeky remark that “we’d have won had the Tories not spilt the vote”. As I have said before, I am grateful to UKIP for splitting the right-wing vote efficiently while being just too ridiculous to win representation in Westminster themselves. But I’m not so sure that what is now Britain’s third most popular party, -a title deserved by the Greens- is incapable of winning a few seats and causing trouble in a possible hung parliament. As if they can get 28% in moderately-minded Eastleigh, what could they obtain in areas like Essex or Surrey?

For the time being, the immediate effect is that the Lib Dems have retained the seat, a headline result which is the least unpalatable realistic possibilty. So remember: it could have been much worse!

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