Eastleigh By-Election

Tomorrow is, as anyone who follows politics can hardly avoid being aware, the Eastleigh by-election. In many ways it is the most interesting and important by-election of the Parliament so far. We’ve had one proper Conservative-Labour marginal in the form of Corby, but given Labour’s strong lead in the national polls a Labour gain was almost a foregone conclusion. The most interesting sort of by-election in this Parliament was always going to be one in a Lib Dem-Conservative marginal.

There have been five polls of Eastleigh during the very short by-election campaign, two commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, two by Survation for the Mail on Sunday and one by Populus for the Times:

Ashcroft 05/02/13 34 19 31 13
Survation/Mail on Sunday 08/02/13 33 13 36 16
Survation/Mail on Sunday 22/02/13 33 13 29 21
Populus/Times 22/02/13 28 11 33 21
Ashcroft 24/02/13 28 12 33 21

All the polls have shown the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives quite closely matched, three with leads for the Lib Dems, two with leads for the Conservatives. The only changes between the Ashcroft poll at the start of the campaign and the ones at the end of it is a further drop in the Labour vote and an increase in UKIP’s vote. From the polling you’d expect quite a close race, with the Lib Dems perhaps more likely to win (which, given the Liberal Democrats continuing very strong performance in local elections in Eastleigh since 2010, is what I’d have expected to see). A remaining unknown is what effect, if any, the Lord Rennard scandal has. The most recent poll by Lord Ashcroft was conducted after the Rennard story broke and shows no obvious impact at all, but clearly the story can continued to roll on since then and become increasingly about how Nick Clegg has handled the issue.

Come Friday we’ll know the result, and people will be clambering to declare what it “means”. Well, I’ll start with the same message I give after every by-election – the result won’t tell us anything about the national picture that we can’t get a much better handle on from national polling. By-elections are a creature that is more different from national elections than it is similar: they happen in only one constituency, in this case one where the Lib Dems are overwhelmingly dominant at a local level and have an unrivalled network of local deliveries and supporters; there is an intensity of campaigning and campaigning spending that dwarfs that in any general election and, most importantly, it makes no difference at all to the government of the country. It is just one MP, in one constituency, so however people vote the government won’t change, only their local MP will. By-elections are either different from national polling, in which case it is a result of the unusual circumstances of by-elections themselves and the particular circumstances of the seat, or they are very much in line with national polling, in which case they don’t tell us anything new.

Anyway, let’s assume the results are as the polls suggest – that the Liberal Democrats narrowly hold the seat over the Conservatives, UKIP do extremely well and Labour get squeezed down to fourth place. Journalists will write comment pieces concluding that the Lib Dems will do much better than the polls suggest as they’ll still be able to get tactical support from Labour, that UKIP pose a serious threat to the Conservatives and that UKIP voters DON’T seem willing to vote tactically for the Tories and, for the Conservative leaning amongst them, that the poor Labour performance shows that Ed Miliband’s “One Nation” mantra is just empty words.

All of these conclusions are nonsense.

Or at least, while some of them may very well be true, none of them will be things we can tell from Eastleigh. Firstly, if it votes in line with the polls Eastleigh doesn’t really show the Lib Dems withstanding the national swing in seats they hold. In the final Ashcroft poll they were down 14 points on their general election score, which is pretty much what the polls show is happening to their national support. Secondly, I wouldn’t conclude anything about tactical voting either Lab to LD or UKIP to Con – by-elections are very special cases, voters get an intense amount of literature and contact from the parties imploring them to vote tactically and send a message, and their vote won’t change who governs so in many ways people are free to vote without consequence. The argument about Labour’s one nation message is just point scoring – it is perfectly normal for a third party to be squeezed in a tight by-election and despite the exuberance of some Labour supporters at the start of the campaign it was bleeding bloody obvious from the beginning that Labour had no hope whatsoever in this seat.

While the by-election won’t actually tell us much, that definitely DOESN’T mean that its not important. On the contrary, I think whatever the result it will be extremely important in terms of party morale and the political narrative.

David Cameron’s backbenches are already extremely restless and for the Conservatives to win a majority at the next election the party need to win a substantial number of Liberal Democrat seats. If the Tories win Eastleigh David Cameron can reassure his MPs that they can take Lib Dems seats, if they fail to do so it risks increasing the unrest on the Tory backbenches and putting further pressure on Cameron and Osborne (especially if UKIP run them close – if UKIP beat the Conservatives then Tory backbenchers risk having a nervous breakdown).

The Lib Dems meanwhile definitely need a win to try and move the narrative on from the Rennard scandal. The blow of losing a seat on top of the ongoing crisis around the party’s response to Rennard could be extremely difficult.

The final possibility is a UKIP win. It is extremely unlikely – all three of the final polls had them in third place and 12 points behind the leading party. The general consensus is that they had the momentum in the election, and the Rennard story may have pushed more people away from the Liberal Democrats in the final days… but equally, a lot of people would already have voted by post anyway. It would suggest a problem with the by-election polls if UKIP did win. Nevertheless, were it to happen it would have a serious effect on politics, you’d expect a big boost in UKIP national support and the effect on Conservative party morale would probably be drastic.

So when the result comes in on Friday morning don’t look at what it tells us about public opinion – by-elections are by definition unusual – look at how it effects the political narrative.

432 Responses to “Eastleigh By-Election”

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    “I was going to add that if the Tories fall short tomorrow….the same strained atmosphere may exist in the Tory camp than would exist in the Arsenal dressing room if they lose to Spurs on Sunday afternoon.”


    Well I suppose to use Paul’s take on things, it’s rather like being 3-nil down at half-time at the Bernabeu, with Ronaldo still to come on.

    I’d probably reserve judgement a little more. But he’s been around longer than me and he knows things.

    And he has a flute. ..

  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/were-mps-misled-embarrassed-gove-pleads-innocence-as-he-is-recalled-to-committee-over-bullying-case-8513325.html

    This is a great photo: future leader of the Tory party?!

    carfrew: Its weird; you throw comments into the ether and people remember them after you’ve forgotten them yourself.

  3. The Tories were banking on labour doing well at the expense of the lib demallowing them to steal the seat, labour voters may think the lib dems are a spineless waste of a space but compared to the it hatred of the tories they will vote tactical, not forgetting the lib dems are good on the ground in mobilising tactical voting.

    It also suits miliband if labour gets its votes squeezed in lib/con marginals as it makes it harder for Cameron to increase his tally of MPs

  4. @Paul,
    carfrew: Its weird; you throw comments into the ether and people remember them after you’ve forgotten them yourself.


    If you mean the flute thing, it resonated because I have a regard for the music thing and the self-development thing (eg the recent artists weasel thing)… I have the education gene and can’t help myself. Always on the lookout for how people learn and stuff. Since my first day at school…

    But that aside, you made a follow-up comment about how this was a “rubbish flute site” which I thought rather funny.

    Maybe you didn’t need to know all that but I just temporarily appointed myself “flute explanation monitor”. Just in case it turns out to be useful someday. ..

    (Well, it could happen…)

  5. carfrew

    The job is yours: I think everyone on the site should monitor at least one thing.

    You are right though – as flute sites go this one is rubbish.

  6. @carfrew

    “Nah, we had much higher debt after the war and had decades of growth. ..”

    What about from 1929, the 30s..debt disaster….hopefully we won’t need a World War to ramp up demand to come out of this slump…

  7. @Marco

    Obviously I’m not saying our debt is an altogether wonderful thing.

    Just that it doesn’t inevitably mean no growth.

    There’s plenty other evidence for why no growth beyond blaming the debt. The fact that business is not investing because no demand, sitting on over 700 billion.

    Plus despite the debt Labour got us back to growth and it didn’t take long for the coalition to start choking that off

    You’re not looking at all the evidence.

  8. @Paul

    It’s quite a good poetry site though. ..

  9. @carfrew

    “…Plus despite the debt Labour got us back to growth and it didn’t take long for the coalition to start choking that off”

    Hi Carfrew, I respect your opinion but I don’t think that you could say that Labour were in the process of fixing the UK economy in the last few months of power. The problem is the debt overhang that was left is scarily huge but the mainstream Politicians will never indicate the real situation as no one would vote for them. If more governmental expenditure and higher Taxes were the answer then France would be an economic star. The US is an exception as they can get away with ridiculous Budget deficits as they are the World’s Reserve currency, for now, but even in the States things are pretty bad.

    I wish your Candidate well whoever you are rooting for Tomorrow.

  10. @Marco

    I didn’t say Labour were or weren’t fixing anything. All I said was that the fact they got growth proves our debt overhang wasn’t so big we couldn’t get growth. The aftermath of the second world war with far greater debt problems also shows you can have growth despite big debt.

    Some countries do it better than others. Wouldn’t use France as a guide. )They don’t control their own currency which you must know will have effects). We were doing it until Coalition took over. The evidence is staring you in the face. It’s just wrong: you can have growth with quite staggering amounts of debt.

    (As an aside, so can businesses. So, actually do individuals. Many people borrow many times their income to make a large amount on property. It’s quite normal. But nations have the advantage of multiplier effects and in the case of sovereign currencies, expanding the money supply etc.)

    I’m not rooting for anyone. (The Don’t Cook Party aren’t running. ..)

  11. “The only changes between the Ashcroft poll at the start of the campaign and the ones at the end of it is a further drop in the Labour vote and an increase in UKIP’s vote.”

    So the 6% drop in Conservative support is not a “change”, but a 7% drop in Labour support is a change?
    Are you looking at the same data as I am?

  12. Howard
    LD 33, Con 28, UKIP 21. Lab 11.5
    That’s my forecast ;)

  13. If Rennardgate has had any effect, I think that UKIP might clinch it but given that doesn’t seem to have (according to polling, according to press narratives, according to ‘the official narrative’ put out by the LDs), I think a LD win seems like a fair assumption to make.

  14. Latest YouGov / The Sun results 27th February – CON 32%, LAB 43%, LD 11%, UKIP 8%; APP -34

  15. YouGov headline Labour lead over the fortnight: 11.3%

    Frequency: 9%(1), 10%(2), 11%(4), 12%(1), 14%(2).

  16. 37m 30, 24

    Today’s YouGov changes since 2010 (approx)

    Con -5%
    Lab +13%
    LD -13%
    UKIP +5%

    Nice and symmetrical! LD lose 13% to Lab and Con lose 5% to UKIP. If only life were that simple!

    Based upon Ashcroft poll in Eastleigh the movement there looks like this:

    LD from 46% to 33% (-13%)
    Con from 39% to 28% (-11%)
    Lab from 10% to 12% (+2%)
    UKIP from 4% to 21% (+17%)

    We” know actual figures tomorrow (I assume?)

    The swing away from LD is actually exactly the national average but they haven’t gone Lab, they seem to be going UKIP long with the Con deserters (more than the national average, in their heartland, in a marginal…dodgy).

    Looks like the anti Tory vote will vote LD or UKIP to keep Con out EVEN THOUGH you could argue that LD is keeping the Tories in power and UKIP is even more Tory than the Cons.


  17. The national swing would result in an Eastleigh result like:

    LD 33%
    Con 34%
    Lab 23%
    UKIP 9%

    If you assume that 5% have deserted Con for UKIP as per national picture, then the other 12% seem to be made up of (most of) the missing swing to Lab (only 2% of a national 13%)

    So c. 11% have switched from Lab to UKIP tactically.

  18. Fast forward to 1st March 2018. ” RBS have just announced a profit of £600 million, the first time it has recorded a profit in the last 10 years. Chancellor Ed Balls says it is still too early to predict when the government will be able to sell the shares it owns. ”

    RBS will have large amounts to write off each year, for many years to come. All the recent talk of Osborne looking to sell some of the RBS shares or giving them to taxpayers, appears to be wishful thinking.

  19. Supposing changes in Eastleigh since the GE:

    LD – 14%, Con -11%, UKIP +17%, Lab +2%

    I’ll postulate…

    LD: 6%>Con, 6%>Lab, 4%>UKIP, 6%>DK
    Con: 11%>UKIP, 4%>LD, 2%>Lab
    Lab: 4%>LD, 2%>UKIP

  20. When was the last time both the Tories and labour finished outside the top two in a constituency election?

  21. Prediction:

    Lib 30.x%
    Con 30.x%
    UKIP 24%
    Lab 13%

    Two recounts and a protester or two.

  22. Eastleigh prediction.

    LD 33.2 %
    UKIP 27.3%
    Tory 24.6%
    Labour 13.4%

  23. @Nick,

    Thinking about GB elections (we can exclude NI for obvious reasons), at the last GE both Ceredigion (Lib Dem 1st, Plaid 2nd) and Gordon (Lib Dem 1st, SNP 2nd) had neither Labour nor Tory in the top two.

    For a by-election, the most recent in GB where neither Labour nor Tory finished in the top two is again Ceredigion, in 2000 (Plaid first, LD second).

  24. Net inward migration -y/e last June, down 34% on PY.

  25. Those on here who have touched on Eastleigh’s electoral history may find this an interesting ramble through the constituency:

  26. In Eastleigh yesterday. Saw no Conservative window posters at all, plenty of Lib Dem and UKIP stakeboards and posters. The few Conservative stakeboards were on field posts. Only a couple of Labour posters.

    The ground war is being fought between UKIP and Lib Dems and it will all be about turnout (much of the soft Lib Dems having gone to “won’t vote”) and also the organisation of the postal vote.

    The Lib Dems will be strong on the postal vote, but UKIP are likely to be surprisingly strong among those who vote on the day. On differential turnout, and with a lot of “shy kippers”, UKIP could just sneak a victory.

  27. Eastleigh is shaping up to be the battle of the millennium.

    Much as I dislike UKIP, I almost want them to win just to see what happens!

  28. On unrelated matters, I said last year that I’d update the constituency guide part of the site once the boundaries have finally been settled. Of course, they now have been, so the new version of the constituency guide is now up and running:


    I’ll close down the comments on the old version in due course

  29. Graham

    [Anthony]‘it is perfectly normal for a third party to be squeezed in a tight by-election and despite the exuberance of some Labour supporters at the start of the campaign it was bleeding bloody obvious from the beginning that Labour had no hope whatsoever in this seat.’

    I understand your argument very well – but Labour was third in Eastleigh in 1992 and managed to resist the 3rd party squeeze at the 1994 by election and ended up a respectable second place with 28% of the vote. It is surely reasonable to ask why Labour’s performance looks like being much more feeble this time in the same constituency.

    If you look at the ICM poll taken at the same time as that by-election (09.06.94) it was Con 25%, Lab 47%, LD 23%. The nearest MORI had Labour on 50%.

    Compare this with the latest ICM (Con 29%, Lab 41%, LD 13%) and Labour aren’t doing as well or the Tories as poorly as in 1994 (to be fair have they ever been?). Even in those ridiculously favourable circumstances Labour only got 27.6% of the vote (even if they came second), so a victory in 2013 was never likely.

    Fun fact about the 1994 by-election. According to Wiki “The election was also the first election that the newly-formed UKIP stood in, with present party leader Nigel Farage being the candidate”. So if they do win or even do very well that speech at the count is going to write itself.

  30. @Anthony Wells

    Corby appears as seat 29 on the Conservative defence list.

    In theory it should now be on Labour defence, somewhere around 150!

  31. Billy Bob – by-election changes are always ignored for such things. I probably need to add that to the FAQ, or put a footnote on the target & defence lists.

  32. Brilliant post. The best analysis on the Eastleigh by-election I’ve seen anywhere.

  33. @Anthony Wells

    Understood. I was just having a lol moment.

  34. The big question is…why has the Tory vote in Eastleigh shrunk more than nationally (assuming it has, of course)

    You’d expect the 39% they got in 2010 to fall back only to about 34% on national polling. Why, here in the South, should it fall back further than that? Tactical voting might explain why UKIP is growing and Lab not really, but why are the blues losing more here than elsewhere?

    Once again, assuming they do! They might get 34% and win the seat.

  35. @Anthony

    I just have to congratulate you on what is an absolutely forensically sharp analysis of the reality of the consequences of Eastleigh. Enjoyed it much more than anything I have read in the papers or magazines for many months since. Thank you.

  36. Is Eastleigh declaring tonight on TV? Or counting later tomorrow?

  37. Early hours Friday reportedly.

  38. @NickP

    “why are the blues losing more here than elsewhere?”


    Maybe the greater organisation/effort of UKip/LDs is part of that?

    But then maybe the rise of UKip is persuading other stories it’s worth a punt? Not such a wasted vote?…

    Message to Cammo about immigration?..

  39. @NickP

    “….why has the Tory vote in Eastleigh shrunk more than nationally…?”

    Because it is a By-election and the Tory candidate, whilst quite a nice local woman by all accounts, is completely outclassed by smoothy-dull LD Thornton, and feisty dynamic UKIP Diane James.

    Suspect UKIP will do better than polls, and LDs much worse. So, could be three-way tight result?

  40. AW that’s a fantastic resource-thank you.

  41. Interesting rise in UKIP support based on a very simple message. Whilst other parties are still trying to play a normal game, UKIP have gone for the jugular using a combination of effective tactics. My guess is that this will only work for a low percentage of the electorate and for only a short period. So at this by election UKIP could get circa 20% but under GE conditions a max of 5-8%. The problem they will have is when they have to talk about other issues than the EU (which has somewhat unfairly become a toxic brand) and immigration. UKIP are a creation of the ‘right’ able to use the EU asa a scapegoate. They will need to be careful that the monster they have created isnt able to run amoc.

  42. @ Andy S

    I actually meant to put in England rather than UK as a whole, must be a long time since both Labour and the Conservatives finished outside the top 2

  43. Roger Mexico
    ‘If you look at the ICM poll taken at the same time as that by-election (09.06.94) it was Con 25%, Lab 47%, LD 23%.’

    OK – but todays’s YouGov gives Labour 43% – the last ICM put them on 41%..Those national figures might explain why Labour would struggle to hit 27/28% this time but would still imply that – say – 22/23% was a reasonable expectation. The only mitigating factor from a Labour perspective appears to be the fourth party surge by UKIP..

  44. Roger Mexico

    Just to add to my earlier comment – Labour’s national lead over the LibDems is actually bigger today than was the case in June 1994!

  45. New constituency guide updated with census data as well…Amazing…Well done AW

  46. @AW

    Conservative defence seats 1,2 and 4 with majorities over Labour of less than 100 don`t seem to be present in the Labour target list.Is this an oversight or is there another reason for this?

  47. I must take issue with the posters that have asserted that britain had high debt levels after ww2, this is only true if you are looking at govt debt but private debt was almost insignificant so the total debt load of the economy was much much lower than today. I know folk like to get hung up about govt debt but it really is a minor issue compared to private debt, after all private individuals can’t print money to cover their debts!! Many seem to believe that interest rates are being kept low to save the govt money but really interest rates have to be kept low because the economy would tank if private debt repayments were to rise and defaults would increase leading to bank failures

    So to recap

    Govt debt does not matter much

    Private debt is deadly

  48. Smukesh – it’s the 2001 Census data rather than 2011 which hasn’t been released yet (it’s expected between end of March and July). It all looks very snazzy though doesn’t it?

    One interesting question that will be raised by the new data is how much the Census data will match the profile of the voters. In the past most immigration was from Commonwealth countries and so those who then settled could vote even before they took citizenship. However a lot of those arriving in the latest decade were European and so not entitled to vote in House of Commons elections. That may make the voter profile different from the population one if such groups differ from the the make-up of the rest of the population in say age or socio-economic status.

  49. Yes, it’s nice of you to share your work with us AW, thanks, very much, appreciated.

  50. Prediction:

    Lib Dem – 29%
    Con – 28%
    UKIP – 25%
    Lab – 14%

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