I wrote most of what I had to say about Eastleigh on Tuesday night: by elections are very unusual events and you can’t tell anything about public opinion from them that you couldn’t get a much better handle upon from national polling. It won’t stop acres of press being written about it today! Suffice to say, 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.

Equally, as I said yesterday, this doesn’t mean the result is unimportant or irrelevant, quite the opposite. A victory for the Lib Dems is vital good news for Clegg and the Lib Dems will hope it helps them move on from the Rennard crisis. There was speculation prior to the by-election that losing it on top of the Rennard scandal would put Clegg’s leadership in peril… now we shall never know. For the Conservatives it is much worse news in terms of the morale of the Parliamentary party. Fractious already, we now have to see if they hold it together or go into complete panic. For UKIP it is obviously terrific news, building into a narrative of growing support – expect to see another round of good publicity possibly translating into increased support in the polls.

And on the subject of the polls, the final polls by Lord Ashcroft and Populus were pretty accurate in terms of Con, Lab and Lib Dem support… but significantly underestimated UKIP support. As ever it is possible that people simply changed their minds between fieldwork and poling day, especially since momentum did appear to be with UKIP, but as I said when the Populus poll was published I am less than convinced about the utility of reallocating dont knows in by-election polls. There is good evidence that people still saying don’t know on the eve of a general election are disproportionately likely to end up backing the party they did last time, but I’m not certain we can assume that the same applies in by-elections. Certainly in this case the Populus and Ashcroft polls were both more accurate before don’t knows were reallocated.

383 Responses to “A few thoughts on Eastleigh”

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  1. @RinN

    “That article you quoted was satire?! I hope”

    Yes, it was a spoof Express headline and article and an attempt by me to satirise some of the retro-spin we’re now seeing in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election result. Pravda-like potrayals of failure as triumph and all that.


    “Can someone point me to the historical data from seats which are a marginal between two Coalition parties? How do we know what sort of drop in vote should we expect from this?”

    Your rhetorical question is a good one and you and I both know that no-one can answer either question because there is no precedent. That’s why I thought Kellner’s analysis of Eastleigh was the best I’ve seen so far. He concluded that the result said absolutely nothing, neither good nor bad, about Labour’s prospects at the next General Election.

    As for what happened to the Labour vote in a seat they’d never won, nor ever really contested competitively, even in Blair’s landslides of 1997 and 2001, we really only have one clue to go on. That was contained in the first Populus poll which showed them at twice their 2010 showing (19% v 10%). As soon as it became known that it was a two horse race with the Tories marginally ahead well, we all know what half the Labour vote did, don’t we? It ain’t rocket science.

  2. CBII

    Your last para makes the same point I made earlier, hugely ignored but absolutely pertinent.

    Its almost as though people are deliberately not trying to analyse intelligently; this is particularly bizarre when its already been done for them at the top of the thread.

  3. Paul,

    In 2010 the party shares were – LD -46.5%
    Con 39.3%
    Lab 9.6%
    Total Coalition vote in 2010 85.8%

    2013 Byelection LD 32.1%
    Con 25.4%
    Lab 9.8%
    Total Coalition vote in 2013 56.5%

    Change in Coalition vote 2010 – 2013 = 85.8 % – 56.5% = 28.3%

  4. Paul Croft

    In 2010 GE the Government parties received 85.8% of the vote and in the by-election it was 57.4%.

    This is a drop of 28.4%, the vast majority of wch went to UKIP

    If we consider the Coalition as one party then there is a 28% swing against them.

    Whether the analysis can be done like this is difficult to say as we have no real precedent. What is true is that we have seen a similar number for all the by-elections since 2010 (10-25% which most around the 20% mark)

    Can you or Chris Lane tell me why this analysis is any less relevant than your 14% figure for each of 2 parties that are Governing in Coalition?

  5. Correction to previous post

    Total Coalition vote in 2013 – 57.5%

    Change in Coalition Vote 2010 – 2013 = 85.8% – 57.5% = 28.3%

  6. I find this dynamic of swings quite interesting, especially in these types of marginals.

    The rise of UKIP as a protest vote recipient is also a complication and makes it difficult to see what the real situation is.

    By-elections have only really been indicators of popularity at a given moment rather than useful premonitions of the future

    The one thing that absolutely cannot be concluded from the result is one that seems to have found favour with the right-wing commentariat (yes Dan Hodges I am talking about you!) who have extrapolated from this result that Labour cannot win in the South or will not win an OM.

    Remember Newbury!

    I do agree with Hodges in his blog though that the result was not necessarily as bad as first thought for the Tories (it all depends on the UKIP voting softness) but the autoimmune response of the Tory right is potentially disasterous.

  7. Well,I said Eastleigh would be a damp squib.Too many people need to make it

  8. Why didn’t you say so before?

    Sad thing is I still can’t work out why my method’s wrong.

    Maybe I’m the banker.

    Anyway, good job I studied the arts and became a great poet.

  9. I think there is a statistical battle going on regarding Eastleigh, to try and explain why things are not too bad for the government.

    @Chrislane1945 clearly takes this view, but this confuses me. He is managing to claim the result is bad news for the Lib Dems, as they have lost 14% since the GE, but that the coalition performance isn’t too bad, as they have lost 14% from the GE.

    I really don’t see much merit in dealing with the coalition partners as s single entity, but this seems to be the implication of these posts. However, as others have pointed out, this actually means a very big 28% drop in government support, whatever that means.

    I think the bottom line here is really to heed Anthony’s advice – to paraphrase, ‘calm down dear – it’s only a by election’. The dynamics of tactical vote switching are very odd in by elections, and this was no different. It gives us some hints of the state of play, but the next GE won’t play to the pattern of a single by election. If it did, these people should clearly be telling us that Milliband will romp to No 10 in 2015, as in the only Con/Lab marginal by election so far, Tories were completely stuffed by Labour. But I presume that result doesn’t count, as the evidence is a bit awkward to explain?

    The biggest impact of this result is going to be on the governing parties, but I don’t think this will be through VI changes. I suspect the impact will be on morale and confidence, and that critical ability to enthuse the foot soldiers.

    The Tory party has been low on confidence for a very long time, and I can’t see this result getting their foot soldiers out on the streets again. For Lib Dems however, pulling this off gives a persecuted minority a real sense of unity and purpose.

    I would agree that they will struggle to defend all their 57 seats in 2015, but I don’t think it will be the orange carnage some seem to wish for. They will now have hundreds of activists pumped up and ready to work hard to ensure as good a result as they can get.

  10. Isn’t there some truth that for a Governing party to still be around 30% on average almost at the mid point of a five year term thats not as bad as it could be under the circumstances?

  11. Alec

    I agree with pretty much all you put in your last post and I think it is very difficult to read anything meaningful in to the by-election.

    The role of UKIP, lack of precedence of results with a marginal between two Coalition partners etc make the extrapolation of anything dodgy.

    The main reason for posting though was in response to the right (of the Labour Party included such as Chris and Jim Jam) who seem to be trying to make a weak argument as to waht Labour should have done based on a dislike of Miliband.

    I expect Miliband is actually feeling pretty okay after this week and I bet he wishes some of the so-called Labour supporters would stop looking for a negative result where there isn’t one. IThere are always lessons to learn but only limited ones from this election)

  12. Richard in Norway
    Accessing iPlayer? Presumably people in the UK pay their license fee so they can have services like iPlayer rather than those who don’t pay. This issue will be discussed here in the lead up to the Scottish referendum. I notice that the fee you do have to pay in Norway is pretty high nad similar to what those living in Denmark and Sweden have to pay. (I realise we UK payers may have unlimited access to Norwegian tv but there again.)

  13. Barney Crockett

    To be fair to RiN the issue is not payment but access. The people I know who live abroad would happily pay the licence fee to get BBC (in fact a lot of them can already get it free on satellite or cable due to European rules)

    The trouble is there no mechanism to do so and for things like iplayer – people will happily pay a similar amount to the vpn providers to get access which the BBC does not provide.

  14. The idea that Cameron should seek to tack to the right or try to remain in the so-called centre as a result of this by-election is the sort of thing that turns many voters off.
    Politicians of all stripes seem to be opportunists manipulating the voters, rather than leaders who have actual beliefs.
    Mrs Thatcher got more than 13 million popular votes in each of the elections she fought as leader of the Tories, despite the visceral hatred she attracted in some quarters. Whether you liked her or loathed her, at least there was no doubt where she stood and what her beliefs were. Does anyone know what Cameron’s beliefs are, or even if they exist?
    I know that he likes dogsledding in the Arctic, Overseas Aid and gay marriage but that’s about it. I don’t even know that much about E Miliband. There are rumours that he’s on the left and that he helped Brown but does anyone know what he believes in if anything?

  15. Clever of Reds to select a metropolitan outsider as Eastleigh candidate so as not to make too strong a showing and allow UKIP to surge through and put the wind up Blues – must have been EM’s nous

  16. Actually I’m still not convinced: it seems like saying that if two fatties have lost 2 stone each they’ve somehow lost four stone each.

    The “govt” are still to separate parties – which is why they recieved separate piles of votes in Eastleigh.

    In any case “swing” is surelly more relevant to old-style two party politics, not the complexity of four parties in a FPTP system in a by election..

  17. RCrombie
    Good point

  18. Paul Croft

    They are indeed different parties but because they are in Coalition to cannot then say they ‘only lost 14% each’ when compared to previous by-elections with a 20+% swing.

    This interpretation is what we are arguing against, not the fact that we are necessarily right to lump then together

    As Alec said some people are looking for excuses to say that it was okay for the Coalition parties and bad for Labour – I think the arguments for that are actually very weak and make no apology in pointing it out.

    I asked before for some data to back up the assertion that 14% drop for each of tparties in a Coalition is better than norma. I am still waiting?

  19. Also, if we are to see Con/LD as govt and Lab as opposition then, since 2010 the former have gone from 59 to 41, nationally, the latter from 29 to 42.

    A “swing” of 15.5%.

  20. bcrombie

    dunno if you are waiting on me but I am saying no such thing – that was [and often is] CL1945. I think this tells us very little we didn’t already know, viz Labour look on course to win in 2015, as things stand.

  21. PaulCroft

    Well you did have a pop at Graham and myself earlier when we said that the drop in Government Party voutes is 28%, not 14%

    In refernce to you post before last, the overall VI OP can only be added together (if at all) if they have a formalised Coalition when the question is asked.

    I do not read anything much into by-elections but as I have said there is some playing around to try to make out this is a ‘good’ result fro the Coalition and a ‘bad’ result for Labour when it is difficult to say what the conclusion is.

    In a LD/Con marginal though when you are not happy with your normal party as part of the Colaition you are unlikely to transfer your vote to the other as a protest or indication of your unhappinness are you? You will move the vote away from the Government Parties and to someone else – in this case mainly UKIP.

  22. BCrombie,
    Not sure how you can categorise me as being on the right of the Labour Party based on my posts on this or any other threads?
    First time in my life but hey ho.

  23. “have a pop”

    no I didn’t – I queried the arithmetical procedure from a sense of logic not bias. On balance it seems a moot point which way one looks at it but either way its crap for the Tories and, because of their unique localism, much less so for the LDs – paradoxically despite the fact they have lost a far greater national proportion of VI.

  24. Jim Jam

    The right are usually the ones looking for a chance to have a go at Miliband and this focusing on the vote in a meaningless (for Labour) by election is a case in point.

    Why should Labour expect higher than 2010 when there was a squeeze on? Precedence would suggest that Labour voters tend to vote tactically in these cases.

    Why woiuld you, as a Labour supporter, look to support the Tory line on this? I don’t suggest there should be complacency but the Tories have enough supporters in the press trying to divert attention from their shambolic performances in everything they do without getting any help

    Paul Croft

    Your post at 10.03 was a bit of a dig don’t you think?

  25. BCrombie,

    I did not realise that my post below was reflecting the Tory Line?

    ”What none of us can know even with Ashcroft numbers is to what degree special factors played out in Eastleigh, how much vote lending went on, etc.
    FWIW, I think the safest thing we can say is that a Tory OM now looks even more unlikley as the 15-20 seats they need off the LDs seem beyond their reach”

    Best to read all the post before jumping to conclusions.
    My view re EM etc are not for this thread but have been made clear previously and will no doubt be again when more appropriate.

  26. RC “a dig”

    self-evidently yes – at the same people you seem to be having a go at which, If you read CB’s para to which I was referring, was about those who were trying to make out the by election result was a labour problem – it is not..

  27. Finally, before I head to bed just to summarise what I am trying to say

    The Eastleigh by-election gives us very little indication of what will happen in 2015

    We cannot compare to previous by-elections as it is such a special case for many different reasons

    The LD and Tories should watch reading too much into the result. Both are at risk of reacting in the wrong way. Labour should shrug and move on

    UKIP are a force in by-elections (seen them picking up at least high teens in a few now)

    The political commentariat are rubbish and should read this site!

  28. Let me be clear if I can.

    Anthony says in his piece.

    ”it does not necessarily show Labour face problems in the south”

    I agree with this.

    However, the result does not show either that Labour are poised to do well in the south at the GE but imo a modest increase to 13-15% share would have suggested that the type of voters we need to get back to take other ‘winnable’ seats were coming on board.

    As I say we don’t know about vote lending so it is possible these voters are on board but not in the By-Election and despite Ashcrofts data we don’t know.

  29. BC [which is what I meant last time]

    As Ole JimmyJammy says you seem to be making very similar points to us and then saying we are wrong…..???

  30. Paul Croft

    for which I therefore apologise…..getting grumpy in my old age. Sometimes the posts could out of sequence and I get confused so easily..

    Jim Jam

    The quote is what I agree with but I am still interested to know why you are so convinced Labour should have got 15% under these circumstances? This is the same line the Tories are using (copyright G. Shapps/M. Green) and is not really backed up by anything solid.

    In Newbury in 93 Labour lost their deposit in the squeeze – it is a similar type of seat with no Labour tradition.

    The thing I worry about is that there is then a push from the ex Blairites to start trying to get a few more percent in these types of seats and so push the party back to the right. You can already see it with the push for Labour to toe the right-wing line on immigration

  31. Seems we are possibly dancing on the head of a pin!

  32. bc

    nae problem – the posts should be numbered for older people like us.

  33. … or, given the hour of day, the head of a pint !

    The byelection tells us sfa about anything other than Eastleigh in late-March 2013.

  34. Ought to have got 13-15% if we wanted evidence of Labour getting the votes we need.
    Not getting that level does not mean we have not get them but I was hoping we would.

    I live in a Northern Labour seat with a modest majority that will become comfortable next time as the SDP part of the LD vote moves back our way in significant numbers.

    Frankly I do not know what the swing voters in Southern targets seats in the SE outside London (that we need a few of to win) want from us and if we can deliver whilst staying true to our values.

    I suspect we can’t achieve this in 2015 as the legacy (fairly or not) of the latter part of our period in office will prove to be too big a drag.
    I do think though that we can be the largest party in seats in 2015 and that imo would be a good achievement given how low our vote share was in 2010.

  35. @Steve Coberman

    It may well tell us a lot more. I think at the very least it shows that UKIP can challenge the Tories in a LD-Con marginal, in a by-election.

    It’s also clear there are Tory MPs who think UKIP could cost them seats at the next General Election.

    We’ll see from what DC does next whether and to whwt extent he believes UKIP are a threat.

  36. JJ

    What I believe is certainly needed is a party that does NOT ask the electorate what it wants in too precise terms before deciding its own policy.

    You can’t please all the people but they can certainlly all can scent insincerity.

  37. Agree Paul my language was clumsy

  38. I totally agree with those that it would be unwise to read much into a by election result.. However, had the UKIP bandwaggon not rolled , I suspect that Labour would have ended up with circa 20%.

  39. Not as clumsy as my typing.


    Perchance to dream.

    Aye, there’s the rub.

    [He’d have been as good as me if he’d stuck at it.]

  40. Big game for Barnard Castle FC under 15s tomorrow Paul, Green Lane 1300 Kick Off.

  41. I know one thing. I’d hate to be Dave right now. I think he’s dug his hole way too deep at this point. If his master strategists come out with a cunning and successful plan it’ll take me completely by surprise.

  42. A question for labour supporters, jimjam has raised the possibility of labour falling short of an OM but being the largest party, so I guess we would be talking about a coalition with the dems, or maybe not? But my question is what do labour supporters believe should be their red lines in any negotiations and what things do they believe they would have to promise the dems to gain their support in parliament.

  43. @ RAF
    “It’s also clear there are Tory MPs who think UKIP could cost them seats at the next General Election.”…

    There are also Tory MPs (sadly, at the heart of government) who think that the way to grow an economy is to take demand out of it. I don’t think the perceptions of MPs (of any party) always match up 100% with reality.

    Amyway, the best news for me from the last few days is the fact that UKIP supporters are increasingly being referred to in the commentariat by the shorthand term “Kippers”. Whether this brings forth the image of politicians snoring, or of stinking fish, neither will add to the attraction of the naysayers.

  44. RIN, depends on the maths – Trident might be a big sticking point now I guess.

  45. Ourselves alone.
    Govern as a minority and then go for another election .
    The LDs support us as they think fit….

  46. @ Colin


    Regarding Mid-Staffs: This may shed some light on why Sir David Nicolson has David Cameron’s support.

  47. Oh my god, I just come across this video of beppe grillo from 1998, talking about bankers printing money from nothing. This guy is no comedian!


    English translation starts at 1min 48

  48. @ RiN

    But my question is what do labour supporters believe should be their red lines in any negotiations and what things do they believe they would have to promise the dems to gain their support in parliament.
    They’d be getting some of their leftie credibility back; & a chance to vote for lots of things they’d like e.g. Lord’s reform etc. What more could LD’s want? ;-)

  49. JimJam

    Can’t sleep for excitement now – still time to catch Norf London derby afterwards.

  50. Ann & Chrislane

    Men rather than sources: I always thought Pirenne’s
    The Stages in the History of Capitalism, International Congress of Historical Studies, London, April, 1913 –
    “there arise new men, courageous and enterprising, who boldly permit themselves to be driven by the wind actually blowing and who know how to trim their sails to take advantage of it” – was a marvellous perception of the interaction of men and economic forces in the shaping of history.


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