Eastleigh: Bad for Tories, Better for LDs, Best for UKIP

So the LibDems held on to Eastleigh by a narrow majority of 1,771 or just 4.3%, with UKIP surging into second place. Alex Massie in the Speccie warns against overanalysing by-elections, while Martin Kettle argued last week in the Guardian that this was the most crucial by-election in decades. I’m inclined to agree with Kettle – I think this could well be a by-election that sets the psephological scene for the next election.

I wonder will this be a ‘canary in the coalmine’ by-election reminiscent of South London’s unglamorous Mitcham and Morden in 1982, one of only a handful of government by-election gains since the war. In that case only a very modest fall in the Tory vote was coupled with a huge defection of erstwhile Labour voters to the SDP/Liberal Alliance, seeing a comfortable Tory gain against a split centre-left, prefiguring what happened in literally dozens of seats in the 1983 General Election.

In this case, the key lessons are: UKIP are going to be serious electoral players for the foreseeable with the capacity to upset the apple cart for the Tories in particular, while Labour voters are still prepared to tactically back the LibDems against the Tories. This raises the prospect of a surprisingly cohesive centre-left vote in 2015 facing a fragmented right – 1983 in reverse.

Let’s look at the parties one by one.

UKIP

For UKIP, today is a day of almost unbridled triumph. Only almost unbridled, because the party will be asking itself ‘what if’ about two questions: what if Farage had run; and what if its surge had started just a little bit earlier?

The media will doubtless focus on Farage’s decision not to run – which was probably the right decision in my view. UKIP needs to become more than a one man band if it is to break through and Farage becoming its first MP – not guaranteed in any event – would probably ensure Farage remained its only MP.

The media will also focus on the wrong question. The questions UKIP needs to ask itself are things like: would we have won if we had proper database software for recording canvassed voting intention? Would we have won if we had a clue how to write an effective direct mail letter? Would we have won had we identified a few unpopular decisions by LibDem-run Eastleigh Borough Council and campaigned viciously on them? Would we have won if we talked less about Europe and immigration, both of which everybody knows we’re opposed to, and talked more about other issues where we might strike a cord with the electorate, like law and order or a spot of non-lefty banker bashing?

As I blogged back in November, the climate is certainly favourable to a UKIP breakthrough, but if they are to bring that prospect to fruition, they need to learn how a small party beats the First Past The Post trap from the Greens, and more especially from the LibDems. That means ruthless targeting and the willingness to see that through at least two election cycles. Even the BNP was smart enough to do that before it committed political hara kiri.

Nnot far away from Eastleigh are seats not impregnably Tory but with much better UKIP potential – places like New Forest East, Worthing East and Shoreham or the Isle of Wight.

The LibDems
The LibDems are obviously one of the big winners from Eastleigh. As the Daily Telegraph’s James Kirkup says, if UKIP are currently the hammer of the Tories, then the LibDems are the anvil.

Don’t buy into the idea that this is a ‘safe’ LibDem seat – Chris Huhne beat Tory Conor Burns (a Belfast boy now an MP just down the road in Bournemouth) by just 568 votes in 2005 and stretched his lead to a hardly overwhelming 7% in 2010. The LibDems have been flatlining in the polls for years, polling just 12% in today’s YouGov poll, for example, and in single digits in others, as opposed to 24% at the last General Election. The by-election was caused by the previous LibDem MP being convicted for perverting the course of justice, while in polling week, headlines were dominated by the groping antics of the centrist party’s former Chief Executive. Sure, they have most councillors in Eastleigh, but they do lots of other places where they’ve never won a Westminster seat and running the local council is a decidedly mixed blessing in British politics.

If they can hang on to the seat in those circumstances, they can now feel confident of holding on to most of their seats where the Tories are their main challenger at the next election; perhaps even picking up a few. Places like Oxford West, Harrogate and the three Tory seats in Cornwall look like at least potential gains all of a sudden. Many LibDem MPs will sleep much easier tonight. Others, where Labour or Nationalists are their main threat, still look to be in deep trouble and unquestionably their number of seats will decline significantly at the next election. But it now looks as though they will retain 30 or more MPs. With an overall majority starting to look beyond the Tories’ grasp, they may prove kingmakers once again.

Perhaps they key reason for that is that Labour voters are still prepared to vote tactically in significant numbers in constituencies like this. I was far from convinced that they would be given the Coalition. Labour’s share of the vote, while very marginally up on 2010, was still less than half it was in 2005, when Huhne scraped home.

The Tories

Eastleigh by-electionThe Tories are now caught in a double bind. They are haemorrhaging votes to UKIP on one side, while the LibDems clearly remain a threat on their opposite side, and Labour is (according to today’s YouGov poll) 13 points ahead across GB.

The current Tory parliamentary party, especially the 2010 intake, is probably the most right-wing on record. Cameron has already been under intense pressure to shift the party to the right. As anyone who followed the internal Tory debate on gay marriage will know, however, Lord Ashcroft’s intense opinion research is telling the leadership that is exactly the wrong direction to move.

One particular trap the Tories must avoid is making Europe the party’s central policy theme. Cameron has already promised an in-out referendum if he wins an overall majority in 2015. That did not sap UKIP’s potential, which derives from a sense of cultural alienation on issues well beyond the EU, but instead moved the political debate onto UKIP’s strongest terrain. If the EU is the primary political issue of the day, why should a Eurosceptic vote for a partially sceptical party like the Tories when the full-flavour brand is available with UKIP?

If I were a Tory I would be ruthlessly attacking the Kippers for their lack of an economic policy, lack of policies on public services, and general tendency to, shall we say, deep political eccentricity. On Europe, what can Cameron offer beyond what he already has?

On Cameron’s other flank, but the LibDem leadership is likely to be emboldened by holding Eastleigh; Clegg has been remarkably unassertive for a junior coalition leader who did, after all, poll almost a quarter of the vote at the last election. The LibDems have quietly acquiesced as George Osborne has pursued an economic strategy that is not delivering the goods, and while the Tories have pushed well beyond the coalition agreement on health, education and welfare.

There is simply no reason for the LibDems to make concessions to satisfy the Tory parliamentary party. The Tories did not win the last general election. Vince Cable, in particular, should feel empowered by a combination of his party’s defence of Eastleigh and the UK’s loss of its Triple A bond rating.

All of a sudden, Cameron’s party management problems have become a lot worse – Tory MPs fear UKIP siphoning off votes and letting Labour and Liberals take their seats by the back door – just as his coalition management problems are set to become equally problematic.

Cameron could be in deep trouble politically, but who could the Tories replace him with? And how does the Tory parliamentary party push any leader towards a more rightwing agenda when they simply don’t have a parliamentary majority. Interesting times ahead. There must be at least a prospect of George Osborne being made a sacrificial offering.

Labour

Labour once had real strength in Eastleigh, an old railway town, with the council estate dominated south end of the town in particular having a high concentration of loyal Labour voters unsqueezable by the LibDems. I am firmly of the view that Labour would have won the seat from third place in 1997 had then Tory MP Stephen Milligan not had his unfortunate encounter with a plastic bag and a satsuma a few years before, giving the LibDems a by-election win. Doubters note: Labour won Hastings from an even less propitious base and 16% swings to Labour were not unusual in the urban South East in 1997.

I did wonder early in the campaign if Labour might have a chance of breaking through in a four-way fight, as I assumed – wrongly as it turns out – that Labour voters would be less likely to vote tactically for the LibDems than in the past. As a result it’s hard to read too much significance into this result for Labour either way; voting patterns will be very different in crucial South Eastern Labour-Tory marginals like Crawley or the Brighton seats, let alone Lib-Lab marginals in the North and Midlands.

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  • I agree with a lot of this.
    Certainly Farage did the right thing in not standing and his candidate was more than able. It is a weakness in UKIP that their candidates are of variable quality….it’s part of a general lack of professionalism which you addressed but it probably needs the boost of some defections from sitting Tory MPs who may see it as a means of holding a seat.
    It needs to get away from being a spoiler…a Party that costs Tory seats.
    They were crucial yesterday.
    I don’t think they can produce that kinda percentage in a General Election but they don’t need to do that to cost Tories seats.
    I’m intrigued that they claim they get disaffected Labour votes and how that is related to Race or more respectably Migration.
    In some vox pops last night, Migration was referred to….notably by one young woman who said …I paraphrase….that she thought there was too many migrants but “not in a horrible way”
    Can they totally disconnect genuine concern with Migration from saloon bar, nineteenth hole Racism.
    Can they disconnect genuine concern over an integrated Europe from bashing Johnny Foreigner.
    That might see conventional parties rally against them…none of the big three want a Fourth Party.
    And crucially can a Galloway inspired Party damage Labour on the Left.
    We might be one General Election away from that.
    But ultimately UKIP are benefitting from a perception that Tories are not Tory enough.
    too soon to think that Esstleigh sets the tone for 2015. I still think the Parliament won’t run a full term.
    But it is not Crewe.
    The Tories lost the 2015 Election when they “won” in 2010.
    labour won the 2015 Election in 2010.
    Huhne won in 2010 because he had Labour tactical votes…Lib Dems won’t get that in 2015.
    In 2015, the seat will be won by either Tory or UKIP. Advantge UKIP for now….but without a protest element, both parties will want to assert themselves as the premier right wing party in the area in two years.

  • Don’t buy into the idea that this is a ‘safe’ LibDem seat – Chris Huhne beat Tory Conor Burns (a Belfast boy now an MP just down the road in Bournemouth) by just 568 votes in 2005 and stretched his lead to a hardly overwhelming 7% in 2010.

    I don’t; but I can spot the odd flaw in that proposition.

    There was redistribution between 2005 and 2010, shifting four wards into Winchester. This was an advantage for the LibDems.

    7% may be “hardly overwhelming”; but it’s a nice cushion. Eastleigh, in 2010, qualified as the 143rd most marginal seat.

    The more interesting question is how the LibDems built such a thoroughly-competent party organisation (capable of putting 700 workers on the streets, to the disgruntlement of the pestered local citizenry).

  • Poorly expressed: better Eastleigh, after 2010, qualified as the 143rd most marginal seat.

  • Gosh! It’s quiet round here! Let’s see if we can make something stir.

    What stirred me, among all the smoke and mirrors of the post-Eastleigh pseudo-analysis, was Isabel Hardman for the Spectator blogs. She was hoping to look into the Tory soul (and the Speccie, in critical mode, is as good a view-point as anywhere):

    … there is what one MP described as a ‘combustible mix’ that could bring about some panic.

    One thing that a number of them think will create considerable trouble for the Prime Minister is the trial of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. It’s not something that really registers on the radar currently, but regardless of the verdict in the case, there will again by questions about the Prime Minister’s judgement in hiring Coulson and his friendship with Brooks. There are other factors, too. This May’s council elections would be bruising for the Tories if only for the simple reason that the party made so many gains in May 2009 when Brown was in power. But many are expecting these elections to show quite how hard the gay marriage legislation has hit the party, too. One senior backbencher says to me:

    ‘It’s going to be a sodding awful year up to the end of this calendar year. We’re going to lose seats at the May elections because we’re coming off the 2009 watermarks. We may have Coulson and Rebekah Brooks too. That in my view is a combustible mix and of course Eastleigh doesn’t help.’

    But what will really spook the the Conservatives is if their position in the polls starts to move significantly below 30 per cent. The party is currently averaging around 31 per cent across the polls. At that stage, backbenchers tell me, those in marginal seats really will have cause to get very jittery indeed.

    And that’s before she arrives at the EU thing.

    That gives us three spooking moments:

    ♞ the Coulson/Brooks trial, due anytime, but presumably not before the back-end of this year;

    ✐ the May local elections; and

    ☹ the ever-popular EU moveable-feast, and Cameron’s promised referendum (which the Tory right will be wanting to bring forward, largely as their magic bullet to end the Coalition — see Mr Lynch, above).

    [I really must stop playing with the Character Viewer.]

    Of those, the one coming over the near horizon is the 2nd May UK local poll. Last outing (2009) the %age distribution was Con 38, LD 28, Lab 23. Add in UKIP and it becomes v-e-r-y interesting.

    I look forward to more thoughtful assessments from Mr Lynch.

  • Valenciano

    You’d think the Conservatives would have learnt their lesson from 2001. Then, they tacked to the right and ended up gaining a single seat for all their efforts.

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere swings of 16% were extremely rare outside London in 1997. Only 11 seats saw such a swing and only 8 of those in the south. Labour had much better prospects around Hampshire to focus resources on, started nearly 32% behind the tories and over 10% behind the LibDems. Hastings aside, there wasn’t any seat where they won from such a position, even in that annus mirablis. Citing Hastings, clearly an outlier, is a surprisingly weak argument for someone with your psephological nous to make. I do agree with you though that it’s fairly poor for Ed Miliband, there’s little sign from that result that Labour can come anywhere close to replicating Blair’s 1997 performance in the south.

  • Greenflag

    Valenciano ,

    ‘I do agree with you though that it’s fairly poor for Ed Miliband, there’s little sign from that result that Labour can come anywhere close to replicating Blair’s 1997 performance in the south.

    I may be wrong and Malcolm R will know the detail better but I doubt if Labour held any hope of winning in Eastleigh ? Have they ever ?

    I would think that post May this Government will hit the skids and may even come to a premature end possibly edged to the edge by a UKIP surprise in the local elections .

  • sherdy

    Cheesy grin of the day went to Nigel Farage. Have you ever seen anyone so delighted while not winning a contest?

  • As I’ve pointed out elsewhere swings of 16% were extremely rare outside London in 1997. Only 11 seats saw such a swing and only 8 of those in the south.

    That only includes constituencies where Labour actually took the seat. As a piece of opposing evidence I’ll thrown in another M27 suburban sprawl seat that’s demographically similar: Gosport. Here a 16% swing wasn’t nearly enough to take down a bigger Tory majority for Labour starting from an even more distant 3rd place, but it was still big enough for Labour to have – just – taken Eastleigh. The constituency then had a formidably good LibDem local election team that wouldn’t have spent all that much time in Winchester or Eastleigh given they had County Council elections on the same day.

    Millbank wasn’t doing anything here. This was Blair.

    It’s a counterfactual proposition, I know. But it’s not as ludicrous as you’re making out.

    Can they disconnect genuine concern over an integrated Europe from bashing Johnny Foreigner.

    I doubt they can, but they’d be serious contenders in a lot of places if they could sustain that perception.

    I agree with you it helped UKIP a lot that their candidate was, at the very least as I judged her from a distance, very competent. You start to think there are numbers of places in the South of England where if UKIP had a candidate like that and built up a LibDem style local election machine they could win more than a taxi-cab of seats come the election after next. They’d need to learn how to do things like getting outside manpower from no hope seats in the General Election into the dozen or so seats that mattered. I wouldn’t rule them out in principle but they just don’t seem interested in the leg work. They’d rather give sermons about the evils of Europe.

    Still, even if they remain willfully ignorant of the realities of First Past The Post they could be decisive. If they actually got 11% (we’re a long way from there) that would mean more like 20% in the South and they would really start costing the Tories seats in the South.

    Throw a 20% UKIP vote into Mid Sussex for example and all of a sudden Nicholas Soames’ seat isn’t all that safe is it? I know that part of the world very well. It’s a weird mix of people down there; there’s a very dry old school Tory element – a lot of people who send their children to private schools on principle, for example; and then there’s a very public-sector element commuting into London, closest to work they can afford a family home, and then you have a surprising number of white working-class people including people who are working but brutally poor, crippled by massive housing costs.

    I do agree with you though that it’s fairly poor for Ed Miliband, there’s little sign from that result that Labour can come anywhere close to replicating Blair’s 1997 performance in the south.

    Blair took a *lot* of votes from the LibDems in the South East and East Anglia. Maybe that was the one thing he did that John Smith wouldn’t have done. Labour would still have won a landslide with Smith, probably on a par with Attlee’s. (Similar people with a similar appeal, in many ways.)

    Milliband probably won’t either but there are still enough decent Labour prospects in the South with even a modest swing (and in the West Country: Wansdyke, NE Somerset, Sutton & Devonport). That’s without considering how UKIP might help. I have no idea whether he’s still too insubstantial to be a leader but Cameron and the Tories have problems.

  • Harry Flashman

    “You’d think the Conservatives would have learnt their lesson from 2001. Then, they tacked to the right and ended up gaining a single seat for all their efforts.”

    The Tories hadn’t a hope in hell of beating Blair in 2001, it wouldn’t have mattered had they run on a Socialist Workers ticket Blair was unbeatable back then so the comparison is somewhat specious.

    The Labour party (like their Democrat colleagues in the US) only ever get elected when they tack to the right, ie to a centrist position. People automatically assume that therefore all the Tories have to do is equally tack to the centre, ie leftwards, this has always been nonsense and Cameron has now tested that theory to destruction.

    Against quite possibly the worst ever Labour government in British history (in a long line of dreadful Labour governments) Cameron couldn’t even get a majority. He ended up having to rely on the Lib Dems and is now running a social-democrat coalition (please spare us the BBC nonsense about the swingeing “cuts” this government is making in public spending, it’s balderdash and we all know it).

    Now faced with three social-democrat parties why on earth would anyone choose the Tories? The liberal metropolitan elites might nod approvingly at Cameron’s foreign aid and gay marriage stance but do you think they’ll ever vote Tory? Of course not!

    The British electorate are fundamentally a small-c conservative bunch, that is why they have always been so despised by the Guardian/BBC elites. They are there for the taking if the Tories had the balls to just go for it.

    Norman Tebbit, a man who knows a thing or three about getting Tories elected put it very well in his blog, if you keep kicking your core support eventually they will kick back.

    The Cameron experiment is finished, and if the Tories don’t replace him with a right of centre conservative (you know the type of people who regularly used to thrash Labour and the Lib Dems at the polls) who is prepared to strike a deal with UKIP then it’s bye bye Birdy for the once great Conservative and Unionist Party.

  • You’d think the Conservatives would have learnt their lesson from 2001. Then, they tacked to the right and ended up gaining a single seat for all their efforts.

    The rest of Harry Flashman‘s piece I’d largely ignore — if only because he has discovered a novelty in English history — a long line of dreadful Labour governments.

    A Malcolmian aside:

    Hint: there have been five Labour governments, of any description. When I’m queuing in the Post Office, five doesn’t count as any “long line”. Both Macdonald administrations were minority, kept afloat by Liberal votes, so hardly Labour-red-in-tooth-and claw: that leaves three. The Attlee administration was a long way from dreadful, in any definition, so we’re down to two. Wilson is currently under positive review — and kept the UK out of the Vietnam débâcle, at considerable cost, while the Wilson2/Callaghan years were attempting to clean up the Heathite/oil shock mess — so, at most one-and-half. Which leaves Blair/Brown — and wouldn’t ‘Gids’ Osborne trumpet the growth figures of those years?

    Back to the main event:

    Actually, most of it is there in the Economist piece (contemptible, but time-saving, cut-and-paste follows):

    In 2001, when the Conservatives lost an election in which they had focused heavily on Europe and asylum seekers, moderates in the party patted themselves on the back. Now, they told themselves, the party would realise the folly of chasing fickle protest votes and return to what it did best: seizing and holding the crucial centre-ground of British politics. The strategy pursued by William Hague, who had drawn the wrong conclusions from mid-term elections during the 1997-2001 parliament (not least the 1999 European election), had been conclusively debunked.

    Others demurred. In his book “The Conservative Party: from Thatcher to Cameron”, the historian Tim Bale writes that in 2003, Liam Fox, then chairman of the Conservative Party, advocated a “shift of emphasis away from public services towards immigration, crime and, of course, Europe—the issues Hague had focused on in 2001. ‘William’, he said, ‘had many of the right issues—it was just the wrong election.’ ‘Politics,’ he claimed, ‘has now shifted.’ As a result, it would be ‘amateurish’ not to focus on immigration, crime and, of course, Europe, which he claimed was ‘roaring up as an issue’.” In 2005, under Michael Howard, the party duly fought an election on those very issues (with the same campaign chief that it has just rehired, Lynton Crosby)—and lost badly.

    Today, as the dust settles on the Eastleigh by-election, the “right issues, wrong election” crew are out in force. The result, they confidently declare, militates for a lurch to the right. Do they have a point? In a constituency that the party once held, the Conservatives saw their vote-share fall by 14 percentage points and ceded second place (behind the incumbent Liberal Democrats) to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which came within 2,000 votes of winning. The election, some commentators insist, is a wake-up call: David Cameron must learn from UKIP’s example—and ape its agenda.

    That’s the history. Now for the prognosis:

    1. All my electoral career, I have had severe doubts about the “Don’t knows”. A large proportion of them are “Know very well, but won’t admit what may be a social no-no.” It is, in effect, the nasty vote, which won’t admit it is being bribed (as with Thatcher’s give-aways of public housing and privatisation), or is unacceptably illiberal (as in the terms of Daily Express screaming-headline xenophobia).

    That’s, in large part, the UKIP-effect. Don’t worry, there’ll be another social pathogen (perhaps even worse) along in the moment. I seem to recall that it was Sam Leith, in the Telegraph blogs, who first suggested that UKIP was the BNP who shop at M&S.

    2. The Cameroon Tories insist on being UKIP-lite, rather than finding a distinctive policy. Sadly, in Eastleigh they had the standard UKIPper candidate, but UKIP had the better Tory one. Quality told. If that’s the limits of the Tory “sell”, they’ll remain in trouble to 2015 and beyond. They’ve lost the narrative — and if the Faragists can keep up the Big Mo into the May locals, and the 2014 Euros, they’re not going to pull it back, Lynton Crosby and “dog-whistles” unavailing.

    3. Eastleigh is a story of a three-way marginal — a 32-28-25 percentage split. You don’t need to factor in any mega-swings — a couple of points will do it.

    However, aggregate the “social-liberal” vote (32% LibDem, and that in the toughest of conditions +10% for Labour) and it’s a very different picture. Apply that over the country, and a hard-line Tory appeal, with UKIP seepage, is piddling against a brick wall. Hysteria, as over “gay marriage” and half of the Balkans arriving at Dover, is just that (well, “gallimaufry”, as the Economist has it — my French interprets that as “being in the soup” or “well-stewed”).

    As thatEconomist article concluded:

    [Cameron] would be well advised to consider the party’s dark night of the soul in the early 2000s. In the eminently winnable 2005 election (a time when, polling suggests, Britons were both more exercised about Europe and less socially liberal than they are now), the Conservative Party ran an UKIPish campaign under the slogan “are you thinking what we’re thinking?” Back then the answer from electorally-decisive voters was: “err, no”. The same, it seems, was true in Eastleigh yesterday. The party should be wary of making the same mistake in 2015.

  • Is there a four party system now in Britain?
    Or even more if you factor in Scotland, Wales?
    Or is it the case that almost 600 seats have to be looked on as individual with all kinds of regional variation,ethnic, urban/rural splits? Not quite Grillo country, but as many votes seem to ANTI something as PRO something.

    Is it no longer a case of Conservative shires,Labour cities, West Country liberals…and everything to play for in the West Midlands?
    We need a General Election before e can actually analyse whether there is something really new emerging….but with so many parties in the field and first past the post system, it seems likely that a lot of MPs are going to be elected on a much lower share of vote than “normal”

    There has been something cosy about a two and a half party system. And as yet nobody seems to have a handle on how it is now.

  • Valenciano

    “That only includes constituencies where Labour actually took the seat.”

    Actually, no it doesn’t. It includes *all* English seats outside London, for example Beverley and Billericay, which Labour failed to win. There were not, as you wrongly believe, lots of 16% swings in southern seats, Labour did well, but not that well. You’re right that the Gosport result would have seen Labour scrape it in Eastleigh but that was a seat which was sewn up for the tories, even in a landslide year and where the LibDems were a good 30% behind. In Eastleigh there was a lot more incentive for both the tories and the libdems to campaign. For every Gosport or Hastings, there are lots of Southampton Tests, Itchens, Basingstokes, Portsmouths, Swindons, Readings, Bristols, Wansdykes etc where Labour started in a much better position but were unable to do quite as well. So as there were 11 seats in England where Labour did achieve that swing and 464 where they didn’t, you’d have to identify some specific local factor for Eastleigh to be one of the 3% of seats which bucked the trend.

    Harry, there’s zero to be gained by tacking to the right for Cameron, he’s already made noises that way, the referendum pledge for example. Hasn’t helped, in fact if anything sticking the issue of Europe in the headlines is only going to be a boon to UKIP.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Harry, there’s zero to be gained by tacking to the right for Cameron,”

    You’re absolutely right, Cameron couldn’t pull it off, he is a busted flush and no one on the right trusts “Cast Iron” Cameron to stick by his promises. That is why Cameron has to be ditched if the Tories want to win.

    When you have a slew of parties all clambering over the same centrist, social-democrat ground, putting clear blue water with popular right of centre policies (and despite the never-ending shrieks from the Guardian and Beeb, center-right policies are extremely popular) , with a credible leader would be a sure-fire winner.

    There is no Tony Blair smiling benignly from the centre now, if the Tories put up a raft of good red-meat, right of centre policies against that beacon of national inspiration Ed Miliband, the man who makes Neil Kinnock look like Barack Obama, is there anyone who seriously doubts the size of the Tory landslide that would ensue?

    Did Maggie Thatcher teach the Tories nothing? The most overwhelmingly popular Tory leader in a generation, three landslides and a fourth handed to her successors? Have the Tories forgotten how to win votes?

    Why do they listen to the endless nonsense from the chattering classes of North London and the media? Why don’t they return to what used to get them elected, by sending local workers out around the streets and asking the voters, not the trendy liberals in the meeja, what they want?

    The voters, remember them? The people whose political leanings are clearly indicated by the fact that the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Sun are the top-selling newspapers in their respective categories.

    No doubt about it, the Guardian would have apoplexy, the BBC would speak about how it was a “lurch” (always a lurch) to the right. Ben Elton and his successors would be popping up on Friday night comedy shows decrying the rise of fascism, pop musicians would be organizing concerts to rock the left vote. It would in short be a rerun of the 1980’s.

    The 1980’s, do you think David Cameron has any recollection of who kept winning elections back in the 1980s?

  • Barry the Blender

    Interestingly Anthony Wells seems to think one can extrapolate slightly less from this result:

    the result in Eastleigh does not show the Lib Dems retaining their support in their own seats (their drop in support was completely in line with national polling), it does not necessarily show anything about patterns and extent of tactical voting (since this is a by-election and they are extremely unusual in terms of campaign intensity and having no direct impact on who actually governs), it does not necessarily show Labour face problems in the south (it’s perfectly normal for a party with no hope of winning to see its support squeezed in a by-election), it does to some extent confirm growing UKIP support… but we knew about that from national polling anyway.

  • Jackie

    If AV had been in place it is likely the Liberal Democrats would have lost as UKIP would have attracted large Tory transfers. The centre can benefit from split votes as witnessed in East Belfast.