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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  1. Roger – nope, it’s all 2011 census. The data has been released for England & Wales, so all those seats have 2011 census data. It hasn’t been released for Scotland yet, so Scottish seats don’t have any demographic info yet.

  2. Smukesh – thanks, will have a look (I think I am missing a Lib Dem seat on their defense list too)

  3. @NickP

    The Tory candidate probably upset a lot of tory voters by saying that by going to a state school her son had no chance of becoming a surgeon, and
    sent a message to any bright child wanting to become a doctor they had no chance unless they went to private school. Insulting every school and child was what killed her chances.

  4. Graham

    That’s true, but the argument is about the likelihood of being squeezed – always important in by-elections and Lib Dem seats, and Eastleigh is both. In 1994 the Conservative collapse meant Labour-inclined voters could support them without worry and Labour’s very high standing in the polls meant there were a lot of those voters. This time they are more vulnerable to being squeezed.

    That said it’s still true that according the Lord A’s latest, in Eastleigh twice as many 2010 Lib Dems are are switching to Labour as vice versa. But the flows aren’t massive and nowhere near enough to get Labour into contention – especially as there seems to have been considerable squeezing already in the 2010 vote.

    In fact Labour seem to have realised this by choosing a high-profile[1] “fun” candidate to give them a good media campaign, rather than a local grafter or a political heavyweight. It suggests they know they can’t win and the real fight will be elsewhere.

    [1] At least in terms of the media recognising one of their own. According to Populus, 37% of the voters of Eastleigh said “Not heard of them” about O’Farrell. Thornton (Lib Dem) only got 30%, Hutchings (Con) only 15%.

  5. I reckon:

    C – 27%
    L – 14%
    LD – 30%
    U – 25%

  6. I think the turnout might be low, which I feel might help UKIP. Also there may be a sizable bit of tactical from Labour today, so my estimate is:

    LD 30, Con 28, UKIP 31. Lab 7

  7. I was reading a Wiki article on the Mid Staffordshire by-election of 1990 recently and was quite surprised to learn that exit polls were conducted for both the BBC and ITN. Nowadays by-elections only seem to get a passing mention. :|

  8. Paulcroft

    Sorry leader I thought stating the bleeding obvious was what you encouraged.

  9. okay here goes

    LD squeezed down to 30%
    Con pips squealing down to 27%
    Lab stay in bed or vote tactically leaving 10%
    UKIP lol stealing with 30.5%

  10. LD 31 Con 26 UKIP 25 LAB 11

    Very good article from Anthony (as always). Only one thing that I *might* disagree with (as his wording is ambivalent) about conclusions to be drawn (none- it’s a by-election).

    I think you can draw one conclusion that in Lib Dem-Con marginals the Labour vote can still be squeezed. This was something we had very little clue on before this by-election. The only proviso being is the Lab as first choice actually greater than 12% in Eastleigh? The first Ashcroft poll suggests it is.

    The rest of it such as Tories not winning could easily be put down to the usual protest vote and unless UKIP actually wins this then surely the Tory vote will rise in 2015- even if you go on one Lib Dem defector to UKIP only equals 2 Tory defectors.

    The odd thing about the lack of rise in Lab vote is that the Lib Dem vote does still seem to have fallen in line with national opinion polls so maybe they have just moved to not voting and maybe this just reflects a lower turnout.

    I remember being horrified that BNP got 15% of the vote in Wigan in the last Euro elections- it was on a very low turnout and come the general election they were barely noticeable so some of this must be down to turnout.

  11. Important that Eastleigh voters remember the old adage, “vote early and vote often”.

  12. Will there be an exit poll tonight? When is the result expected?

  13. If Gary Gatter and NickP are correct about a UKIP win it will have an even more dramatic disruptive impact on Conservative backbenchers than a narrow LD hold. Plus, the presence of the dynamic and appealingly intelligent Diane James at Westminster might well act as a siren voice in the tea room, wooing a number of unhappy Tory backbenchers onto the rocks of UKIP membership. With a viable right-of-centre challenger to the Tories now in the game it is probably the greatest danger to Conservatism since 1945. The “Old Interest” will ultimately see them off, but UKIP could do untold damage to DC’s chances in 2015.

  14. My prediction:

    Con – 30.5%
    Lib – 30.4%
    UKIP – 25.6%
    Lab – 12.5%
    Other 1%

  15. My Hunch: (Prediction is too grand a word for mine!)

    Con 30
    LD 30
    UKIP 28
    Lab 11

    Con take it on a recount or two!

  16. Some of the comments here about tactical voting seem to rest on two false assumptions. These are

    1) that Lib Dem voters are somehow part of a ‘left’ vote and
    2) the coalition Con/Lib Dem government never happened

    If we can move beyond the above assumptions then we might more easily

    1) explain a swing from the Lib Dems straight to Ukip and
    2) explain the fall in Tory voting. To some extent this may be indeed be a result of tactical voting, but for the best placed austerity government candidate, who now seems to be the Lib Dem

  17. If UKIP win it will be a sad indictment of our democracy for 2 reasons. 1) Much of UKIP’s campaign is based around false data presented as ‘facts’ using the age old methedology of saying the same thing often and loud and a percentage of people will believe. 2) UKIP has been given the freedom of the media to shout loud and often without challenge. Why I dont know? But something is not working. If I have to hear NF say the EU costs £50 million a day any more – I will go mad.

  18. Will Rodda

    “Some of the comments here about tactical voting seem to rest on two false assumptions. These are
    1) that Lib Dem voters are somehow part of a ‘left’ vote and
    2) the coalition Con/Lib Dem government never happened”

    Interesting point. It’s true that we’re in I chartered tactical voting waters in that there is a chance that Govt supporters may vote for the coalition partner most likely to win. Certainly that happened in Oldham & Saddleworth. But Eastleigh is such a tight call between Con & LD that tactical voting either way seems unlikely.

    As for the LDs being part of a left bloc, there is very strong long term evidence that the combined LD and Lab vote is very consistent. That goes back at least 50 years. That’s not to say that all LD voters are left-leaning of course, but it does indicate support for the argument that a chunk of voters do shuttle between LD and Lab.

    Of course, the right wing parties have pulled some previously left-supporting voters in the last decade. But again, it would be quite remarkable if they did do on a very large scale.

  19. I was going to collate predictions but if the winner sends a crowing posting (justifiably I add) then that will save me. Rob650 looks good but I will vary from him (her?) in UKIP not reaching further.
    Con 30
    UKIP 22
    Lab 12.
    I don’t think others will get more than 4%.

  20. Incidentally, we can safely conclude that the NHS thing did not take off in Eastleigh did it?

  21. Will Diane James be de facto UKIP leader if she wins?

  22. Will Rodda

    Some of the comments here about tactical voting seem to rest on two false assumptions. These are

    1) that Lib Dem voters are somehow part of a ‘left’ vote and
    2) the coalition Con/Lib Dem government never happened

    The trouble is that the first assumption may well be true. If you look at today’s YouGov poll asked If you had to choose, which of the following options would be best for Britain? 49% of current Lib Dems said “A coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats” as opposed to 36% who replied “A coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats”.

    It’s common wisdom that, because the Lib Dems have lost as many of their 2010 voters as they have retained, the remnant must be right wing. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  23. From the Guardian.

    Here’s a quick round-up of bookies’ odds on the Eastleigh byelection.

    William Hill puts the Lib Dems in the lead on 2/9, with Ukip second at 5/1 and the Tories third on 6/1.

    Ladbrokes also has the Lib Dems top, on 1/4, but puts the Tories second at 5/1 and Ukip at 6/1.

    UKIP closing?

  24. Looks like the second place spot between UKIP and the Tories might be close.

    Do we know if there are any exit polls?

  25. No one does exit polls for by-elections anymore, so no

  26. many thanks Anthony.

  27. Paradoxically imo a LD hold is good for the Tories in that their realists will have evidence and a stronger hand.
    The notion that they will take 15-20 LD targets by holding their vote while Labour takes their ‘borrowed’ ones back will be exposed as wishful thinking.

    Of course modernisers will say the candidate did not help while the ‘Bone’ (head) tendency will say not ‘conservative enough etc.

  28. UKIP 30
    LD 29
    Con 26
    Lab 11

  29. @Roger Mexico

    “It’s common wisdom that, because the Lib Dems have lost as many of their 2010 voters as they have retained, the remnant must be right wing. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

    Given that by-and-large those of us who have deserted have deserted in a leftwards direction, it just goes to show with these results from the rump support that remains, just how overwhelmingly left-wing the LD support was when it was up in the early 20%s!

  30. Yet another UKIP win prediction!?

    et tu PHIL HAINES……

    Blimey, something is going on, if not on the ground at Eastleigh, then certainly amongst we polling punters!!!?

  31. @RC
    “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”
    Posters in houses are always a good indication of which parties are in the running, except that Conservatives always seem reluctant to display them anywhere so the absence of Con posters is not in itself conclusive. I regard them as particularly important when someone is mulling over whether to cast a vote on a candidate who might not be in the running. If they’ve got lots of posters up it can be persuasive that they have a fair chance.

    The fact that someone had set up a website monitoring poster sites in Brighton Pavillion in 2010 and that the Greens had tons of them on there was enough motivation for me to take a successful punt on the Greens at evens.

    That’s basically good news for UKIP, because it will confirm to many waverers that they are in contention. It might persuade a few Conservatives to switch at the last minute. Note that most of those UKIP sites will have been identified in the campaign, whereas the LDs probably had most of theirs identified at the start from their local government canvassing records.

  32. UKIP – 32%
    LD – 29%
    CON – 26%
    LAB – 8%
    OTH – 5%

  33. LD 31
    CON 23
    UKIP 32
    LAB 12
    NHA 1
    OTH 1

    Is my prediction, based solely on the polls misunderestimating UKIP before. Also, UKIP would lose the seat in 2015 for defs.

  34. It strikes me that AV would make analysing the Eastleigh results so much less interesting.
    Yes, we’d know much better what the voters really wanted and what they tactically settled for, and what sort of mandate the new MP has.
    But that’s a lot less fun than all of the spinning and speculation we’ll get over the eventual FPTP result tomorrow.

    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



    You have to be a bit careful with the MMT stuff, and the ability to just print money which applies to Sovereign currencies.

    But after the war and Bretton Woods we joined the Gold Standard and lost control of our currency. We didn’t have a freely floating currency. .. it was constraining rather like being in the Euro. Hence the big deal about devaluation those days.

    Also, while private debt wasn’t as high, government debt peaked around three times as bad as what the Tories inherited. Worse, our industry was screwed, much of it having been repurposed for the war effort. Over seven percent of our GDP went on the military needs of managing the decline of an empire we could no longer sell into as Americans had made us open up our markets at Bretton Woods and our industry was in no shape to sell into the markets of empire anyway.

  36. (As what the Coalition inherited).

  37. Well as everyone else is making predictions, I think the Tories will sneak it with just under 500.

    It is based on two things. A lot of Tories will vote and when they get to the polling stations they will vote blue not purple.

    Today’s news of the fall in immigration might help depending on where it features in the news.

    I also think that it will be a relatively low turnout below 40% with a good number of the potential Labour switchers staying at home to cost the LibDems a win.



    My thoughts are similar to yours….mind you I’m always wrong…but as they say in Las Vegas you only need to be lucky once!

    On another note: Benedict XVI – Vale Sanctissimus Pater – See Cardinal Dolan NYC just gave an interview on CNN. I guess the election is underway!

  39. Carfrew
    “But after the war and Bretton Woods we joined the Gold Standard”

    I thought we left the gold standard in 1931 as it was unsustainable. Until then, I think that you could go demand that the BofE would give you gold in exchange for your paper money, although that right may have ended earlier.
    After the war we had fixed exchange rates – 4 US dollars to the pound, hence the slang, half a dollar for half a crown (2/6p) which continued in language use until decimalisation in 1971, even though by then it was only about 2.15 US dollars to the £.

  40. @Gary Gatter 1:56pm

    “When is the result expected?”

    Just seen on the Guardian site that the result is expected around 2am. I might, just might, set the alarm for 3am and check.

  41. @Robert

    Under Bretton we tied our currency to the dollar, which in turn was tied to gold. Nixon effectively put an end to all this in the early seventies for reasons not entirely unconnected to things like the French stockpiling gold, haha. ..

  42. One or two entries (PH’s and NP’s were eyebrow raising) almost made me post ‘Expectation Management Alert’ but generally we have partisans’ optimism bias as usual. Take two points off your favoured party’s score and you will be somewhere nearer.

  43. Good Evening All.

    As to JOHN and the Tory candidate’s views on local state schools, I have questions.

    i. Are there any secular state 11-18 schools in the Eastleigh environs?

    ii. Do roughly 40% , yes 40% of pupils in this prosperous part of England fail to get good grades in Maths, English and Science?

    iii. Does the Lib Dem leader have any faith in state schools?

    Answers: No; Yes and No

  44. Carfrew
    Sometimes I genuinely long for one world currency (based on nothing in particular), one language and coffee coloured people (starts to hum).

    Well they all speak English on Startrek, except the enemy. It is amazing how lots of US scifi is unable to envisage a world where none other than ‘Mr President’ can sort out impending galactic doom or a threatening meteorite.

  45. Howard,

    We’re closer than you think!

    We already have one world currency, it’s called the ‘credit card’. In a fast-growing number of countries, you barely need ye olde-fashionede currencye at all.

    And after a decade of travel throughout Africa and Yurp, I have concluded that if it isn’t your first language, English is almost always your second.

  46. @Howard

    Well Keynes wanted a world reserve currency (the “Bancor”) backed by a central bank. But it didn’t suit US interests…

    My choice, lol, as I will not have a choice, would be Dolan. Good communicator, tough, orthodox.

    Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam,

    Maybe the conclave will use STV or AMS?

  48. @ Peewee

    Yeah, AV would be a real drag man….

    PR elections are even worse……

    …….rank unfairness to the majority is much more fun, especially when the vast majority, even at general elections, waste their vote on losers!

  49. @CHRISLANE1945

    Or the exhaustive ballot….

  50. “No one does exit polls for by-elections anymore, so no”
    I’m surprised that with this being an “important” by-election and the BBC doing a live question time that they haven’t commissioned one.
    Given that BBCQT is on not long after polls close, you’d think they would want an exit poll to show off, to get reactions from the panel.

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