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. @MitM
    “Even if the fall was down to a surge in emmigation, it would still be good news as it would mean there was more economic resources, houses, healthcare etc to be spread around.”

    But what if the people leaving are (genuine) wealth creators, builders, doctors, and nurses?

    Immigrants often bring economic resources into the country. The NHS is heavily reliant on immigrant workers. Housing shortages are down to a range of factors – the long-term impact of right to buy (we stopped building council houses, and the private sector didn’t build more as a result), migration within the UK, and increasing numbers of both broken/split families and single households (so we need more houses per capita) are all at least as significant factors as migration.

  2. I think the economic impact of immigration depends on the balance between work and labour in the host country.

    There are times/places where there is plenty of work and a drastic shortage of labour (colonial America for example, or post-Black Death Europe). In those circumstances inward immigration is a huge boon because there are many economic opportunities begging for labour to exploit them.

    There are times/places where there is plenty of labour and a shortage of work. The UK is currently faced with this. In those circumstances immigration is a much less beneficial phenomenon. When there are already 10 applications for every job, adding a few more from new immigrants isn’t going to add very much value to the economy, and comes with the economic and environment cost of hosting those extra applicants.


    I agree that the issue with “immigration” in the public (or at least the Sun/Mail reading public) imagination is as much to do with second or third generation immigrants as with new arrivals. I am always gratified by positive stories of existing BME Britons (from the Johnson Beharrys to the Mo Farahs to the Emeli Sandes) because it shows those who have eyes to see that skin colour doesn’t matter. I do however think that the (in my view) excessive rate of continued immigration makes it harder for the country to “relax” about race and culture and get on with building a New Britain from all of our great people.

  3. The NHS needs migrant doctors I agree, it doesn’t need migrant cleaners.

    Also, all these talks of economic benefits that migrants bring, yes they bring some, but the benefits go to the wealthy not the working class. It’s the working class who suffers as a result, the rich get richer as usual.

    Yes, immigration is good for Mother can afford a cheap nanny to look after Theodore and Evelyn. Yes immigration is good for Mr Asda, can get lots and lots of cheap labour for little pay.

    But immigration is not good for Bob and Joe who are struggling to find work as there are no jobs. Even if there were any jobs going, why would an employer give them to Bob and Joe? They have this crazy idea of working decent hours and getting a decent living wage.

  4. Neil A

    This is what I am on about.

    Just plough through the mugshots on that page.

    I am not saying that even such images are the majority. but these are what stick in the mind of the public. We discuss opinion forming here.

    That’s what matters when it comes to opinion forming, which I am sure you understand and I actually think the most of the intelligent UKPR people do too.

  5. Is there a prize for the most accurate prediction? Who is the prize winners prize monitor?

  6. The mistake that often gets made in this discussion is thinking that there are a fixed number of jobs, and if some people leave then there are more jobs to go round for everyone else.

    Well it ain’t so. The reason is that if people leave, the demand created by their spending leaves too, and the economy gets smaller. Jobs are lost.

    Conversely, immigration stimulates the economy by creating demand for goods and services. It creates more jobs. (In fact, as Alec mentioned, studies show that generally immigration creates more jobs than the number of people arriving.)

  7. Hal

    If that were true we’d be having jobs coming out of our ears.

    One extra person does not create one extra job (let anone more than one)

    The minimum wage is about 11K, even if the migrant spends nearly all of that amount, 11K extra of spending in the economy is not going to create any jobs for than 11K

  8. @Hal,

    As I say, I think the question of whether inward immigration creates more jobs than it fills depends entirely on the economic situation in the home country.

    I would argue that at the moment, if 100k new immigrants arrived tomorrow, their presence would be unlikely to create 100k jobs, so their overall impact on employment (for those already here) would be negative.

    In a booming economy, with the expansion of companies held back by lack of labour, that might well be reversed.

    It’s actually part of what led to the American Revolution. During the French-Indian war, the UK government just couldn’t understand the reluctance of the Americans to supply troops. They had a mindset based on the easy availability of men, who could virtually be scooped off the streets of Britain’s big cities where they were un- or under-employed. They couldn’t understand that to a colonial farmer with 200 acres of prime land and three sons, the absence of two of them meant a 2/3 drop in income.

  9. @RiN – ” …maybe just coincidence”

    You’re joking. Conservatives seem to be concentrating on clawing back support from the right flank. In UKIP yellow and purple:

    “Major Boost for Maria Hutchings
    Local UKIP MEP backs Maria to be our next MP on Thursday.”

  10. @MITM

    RAF “My point is that UKIP has virtually no presence in Labour working class areas because it is seen as a right wing party, “That’s why you get UKIP in Tory areas”
    MITM: “Ah yes, that’s true, silly me I had forgotten that Rottherham, Croydon North, Middlesborough and Manchester Central were all bastions of Conservativism hence explaining UKIPs strong showing there last year.
    When you look at an electoral map of the UK no constituencies shine bluer than these 4. Finchley, Witney and Brentwood/Ongar are practically socialist slums compared to these fine examples of rightward leaning lands.”

    Are you serious?

    In all of those 4 Lab constituencies you mentioned Lab lost 0% of their share of the vote to.UKIP. It all came from the Tories which proves my.

    Indeed in Manchester Central Lab got over 60% to UKIP’s 5%, and in.Croydon North nearly 45% to UKIPs 4.5%. Where’s the threat to Lab? Even in Rotherham, where UKIP got 20%, that was due to a 15% fall in the Tory vote. Lab’s vote share actually increased from 44% to 46%.

  11. @MitM

    “Also, all these talks of economic benefits that migrants bring, yes they bring some, but the benefits go to the wealthy not the working class. It’s the working class who suffers as a result, the rich get richer as usual.

    Yes, immigration is good for Mother can afford a cheap nanny to look after Theodore and Evelyn. Yes immigration is good for Mr Asda, can get lots and lots of cheap labour for little pay.

    But immigration is not good for Bob and Joe who are struggling to find work as there are no jobs. Even if there were any jobs going, why would an employer give them to Bob and Joe? They have this crazy idea of working decent hours and getting a decent living wage.”

    Which just confirms my earlier comment about immigration rarely being the issue people who talk about it really care about. You have an issue with the way the economy disproportionately rewards the people at the top. And that employers are able to get away with offering shoddy terms and conditions to people who are more willing to take them. Those problems would not be solved by halting immigration, but might be solved by tighter regulation on businesses, a more progressive tax system, and other similar reforms.

    In short, what you really want is Old Labour economic policies, rather than the Neoliberal ones that dominate the thinking of the big three parties. For you, immigration is a proxy issue for the problems with free-market capitalism.

  12. Hal

    As net migration is currently at 183,000.
    When I can expect these 183,000+ new jobs to appear?

  13. The economic prognoses for my Region were entirely based on the ability of the Region (SW) to absorb immigration. Whether that was from elsewhere in the UK or outside it was not of the essence, according to the economists.

    I tried to raise the question of whether one could express a view as to whether this was desirable or otherwise but was regarded as edging towards cranky viewpoints. My argument had nothing to do with edging out ‘indigenous’ peoples. As we know these all wear smocks and have straws in their mouths so are not in the market (that’s a joke MITM) .

    No, my argument was against the undesirable urbanisation of one of southern England’s last very beautiful rural playground.

    Oratorically I was p*ssing in the wind. My Con, Lab and LD colleagues were gung-ho for growth.

    2.8% annual growth was what this immigration was supposed to guarantee, not an unemployment problem.

    Every Regional Strategy was the same AFAIK.

  14. @RAF,

    Hmm, so between 2010 (Labour 30% in the polls) and 2011 (Labour 42% in the polls) there was no loss of votes from Labour to UKIP?

    Big surprise that. Who’d’ve thunk it.

  15. From “UK Migration Controversies”, Royal Geographical Society:

    The fiscal impact of migration is complicated,
    not least because there is considerable
    variation between the economic
    characteristics of immigrant groups. A Home
    Office study found that, as a group,
    made a net contribution of around £2.5 billion
    for the period 1999-2000 (Home Office
    2001). More recent work has also concluded
    that migrants have a positive – and growing
    – impact on public finances. This is because
    they have higher average earnings than the
    UK-born population and are disproportionately
    situated at the upper end of the income
    spectrum (Sriskand
    arajah et al. 2005). In
    addition, international students are estimated
    to contribute at least £3.74bn annually to UK
    universities and a further £1bn per year to
    GDP (Vickers and Bekhradnia 2007).The
    weight of the evidence suggests that far from
    being a drain on the public purse, immigrants
    actually put more into the economy than
    they take out

  16. @Hal,

    Yes, a good assessment of the economic impact of immigration during an economic boom.

    Also, does this assessment take into consideration the economic impact of UK jobseekers who are potentially displaced by immigrant workers?

    An immigrant with a job may well personally contribute more than they get out (most people with a job do), but if as a result of them applying for that job, a UK jobseeker remained on benefits then that too would have to be factored in. It may have been, but the summary doesn’t say so.

  17. More from the RGS:

    The public debate about the possible
    consequences of immigration on
    employment seems to be led by a
    perception that there are a fixed number
    of jobs in the recipient economy (the
    ‘lump-of-labour’ fallacy), and that
    immigration will lead to more competition
    for these jobs. But almost all economists
    agree that the number of jobs available
    can grow (or shrink) according to economic
    conditions and that inward labour migration
    often results in the creation of more

  18. RN

    I don’t mind bein’ prize monitor. If my very early prediction that the winner has less than 30% comes true I shall make a short acceptance speech also.

    Too much to and fro movement possible to make a proper result prediction any more than guesswork.

  19. “according to economic conditions ”
    being the key phrase

    In a booming economy, where the country is being held back by a lack of labour then yes immigration is a great boom to the economy and should be encouraged.

    When times are tight and there are competition for jobs, adding extra competition for those jobs does not make anyone better off. There will still only be 1 person who gets the job, and the rest shall remain unemployed.

  20. Libs will win it with 32%
    Cons will come 2nd beating UKIP by 2-3%

  21. Paul and Colin
    cluck cluck….

  22. Polls are now closed!

    Let the counting begin!

  23. Please don’t vote now as your vote won’t be counted but you may still be charged… (with electoral fraud)

  24. Immigration as a cultral or economic problem I would think it’s a bit of both, when I was farming and employed foriegn labour to help with crop picking and packing,up to thirty at a time depending on the crop, and time of year, one of the recurring problems was racial abuse and general animosity from local people when the workers were out drinking in the pubs.
    The main problem was the local casual labour we used in the late 1990’s had been displaced by immigrant workers because they were cheaper to employ.
    This had caused resentment in the area so the economic reason for mistrust actually manifested itself as racist comment, which was deeply upsetting for the mostly student work force.


    “The NHS needs migrant doctors I agree, it doesn’t need migrant cleaners.”

    In the hospital I was in last year I didn’t notice any migrant cleaners,there was only one migrant nurse (most lived very locally) and the many migrant doctors, each from a different country, weren’t there to help the NHS or even to earn money to send home, they were there for the CV. Thats what drives junior doctors, and they were very pleased to be there.

    It was the prime place to have been to get experience with a catchment areaof 2m people with the worst cardiac disease in the EU, and quite possibly with the most experienced staff, very high staffing levels and lots and lots of shiny new equipment.

    While I was there the entire ward nursing staff went off for a hen night and there were still plenty to provide cover.

  26. Cloud Spotter
    Thanks for that Telegraph Expectation Management alert. Note, PC, that I am on the case.

  27. Neil,

    I think the RGS are saying that, on balance, an immigrant creates his/her own job. Of course the vacancy they fill isn’t available, but their work creates another job somewhere else.

    I take your point that the studies need to be updated to see if the conclusions are any different since 2009. But I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we assume the current economic conditions are permanent?

    Very interesting that immigrants have higher average earnings. That does rather undercut the anecdotal evidence about strawberry-pickers.

  28. John you must live in a very upper/middle class areas to not see a single migrant cleaner! Or perhaps you are just engaging in hyperbole?

    And as I said before, I have no problem whatsoever with skilled migration such as Doctors and Nurses.

  29. howard


    UKIP by one illegal immigrant


    You made me LOL (laugh out loud, so there is no Cameron type confusion)

  31. “Very interesting that immigrants have higher average earnings. That does rather undercut the anecdotal evidence about strawberry-pickers.”

    Immigrants come to a country to do two types of jobs. The first is jobs the natives can’t do because we don’t have enough qualified people. The second are the jobs we won’t do – either because even the lower classes think it’s beneath them, or because employers aren’t prepared to pay a living wage for them. Obviously we have a lot more immigrants in the first category than in the second.

  32. By the way, I think UKIP’s “our femalle candidate is better than your one” [not hard] was a cunning move.

    The NHA had nothing to focus on in my view.

  33. Paul Croft
    I haven’t seen one UKIP candidate (excluding those immediately identifiable as being from the start, well, a bit different, that did not turn out to have something that those who voted for them, albeit anonymously under PR (EU elections) did not realise).

    The history of the EU UKIP MEPs should be enough to go on.

    If it turns out we have a candidate here that defies previous experience (and she wins), then indeed we could be into a new era. It’s not going to be however, I suspect.

  34. Good Evening All.

    Very good blog on Labour strategy in the Daily T

  35. On QT, Dimbleby has just advised that the LDs have tweeted that it is LD, UKIP, CON in that order.

  36. Re Immigration

    In the 20th Century Hong Kong had massive inward migration and the Hebrides had outward migration. Anyone who thinks immigration *necessarily* damages the economy needs to explain what happened in the respective economies of those regions. I could have given dozens of other examples. Almost every city in the world was built on mass migration from the countryside.

    NB this doesn’t prove immigration is always a good thing or right for the UK now – though I’d say it shows the onus of proof is on those against immigration, not the other way round.

    More importantly, migration is part of the labour market and as someone once said, you can’t buck the market. If there are more or better paid jobs in the UK than elsewhere people will migrate here, irrespective of laws or policies. The fastest [I’d say only long-term…] way to stop them is to reduce demand for labour here or increase it elsewhere. In NeilA’s example if there genuinely are several qualified applicants for every post immigration will fall of its own accord. But of course only if the applicants are qualified, and not merely by birth in the UK

    Oddly the people most in favour of free markets are often those most in favour of immigration controls and vice versa.

  37. Watching Question Time, I’m starting to like this Claire Perry.

    Lab aren’t going to like me for this but the’re representative seems a bit slow.

    Ken Loach should spice it up at least

  38. Watching QT and there has just been a tweet that LDs have won and UKIP

  39. MiM



  40. I would love the Conservatives to take this, but I have a gut feel its a Lib Dem hold.

    Any more snippets coming through on social media etc??

  41. @Chrislane1945 – There probably has been, and we can guess what it says.

    By the way – are you still certain Tories will win Eastleigh?

  42. Reports suggest around 10,500 postal votes returned, which are generally believed to have been slightly more Lib Dem than Tory, with little effect from recent Rennard allegations or from UKIP campaigning.

    So far, most reports are also agreeing that UKIP seems to have surged on the day. Lib Dems still seem to think they have won it, but they are not confident.

  43. MiM, you might like Claire Perry, Dimbleby doesn’t seem to.

  44. Watching question time just reinforces my view that demographically and socially, the centre right are a dieing and ageing breed. Another part of this is that turkeys don’t vote for Xmas, and in fairness, with a difficult economy and very high youth employment, combined with the fact that socialism is quite trendy for young people, I just think it looks bleak for the Tories long term.

    If I was on more controversial form, I might say that people don’t want to take responsibility, and admit that regardless of the banks major role in the bust, we all borrowed way to much in the Blair boom years, and consumer unsecured debt played a huge part too. It’s funny how I don’t think I have ever heard somebody say ‘ow yes that 110% mortgage, or that 15k loan was a mistake on my part’

    Watching Question Time, I’m starting to like this Claire Perry.



  46. God, she’s an abomination.

  47. “John you must live in a very upper/middle class areas to not see a single migrant cleaner! Or perhaps you are just engaging in hyperbole?”

    Where I live is I think rated as deprived and is an island with a population of 5000 and almost no immigrants.

    The hospital is in an impoverished part of Glasgow 50 miles and a half hour ferry journey away. (Patients have had travel costs mostly paid since a generation before the start of the NHS).

    It was built as a private hospital and taken over by the NHS.

    Scotland is different. Some people think it should be a separate country.

  48. I think Claire Perry has done ok having to speak to a typical hard left audience that the bbc seems to assemble each week. Much prefer her to Rachel Reeves who was on a few weeks back.

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