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. CLs confident assertion that tories ill in in 2015 looking good also

    Where is the poetry monitor?


    “Poetry standards are slipping

    ‘T’wud be better if U had been kipping

    I couldn’t care less that the meter’s a mess

    – But it didn’t rhyme very well neever”

    Carfrew: Not nice of you to snitch that IT WAS NICKP WHO CALLED CLAIRE PERRY AN ABOMINATION.

  2. @Academic

    As far as I’m aware all parties in the UK ( apart from the SNP) have the same policy.

  3. surely the fact that Lab scored 30% in the 2010 GE and are now running at 42+% in the National VI polls yet gained precisely nothing in Eastleigh suggest that this vote gain is happening disproportionately elsewhere.

    -Well clearly it wasn’t happening on 28th February in Hampshire.However the Tory VI figure is down only 3-6% since the election and this wasn’t reflected by the 14% fall either.

    Strangely enough the only non single issue party who performed in line with the VI ‘s was the LD’s

  4. Will Win [see above]

    My Ws are playing up now.

    Re Tories: let the turmoill begin.

    and it is NOT sChapps.

    Please spell proper.

  5. Anthony – I posted a pretty uncontroversial comment on the new Kingston & Surbiton thread which is in moderation. Hope you can unmoderate me please.
    This clearly isn’t a good result for Labour, but only Grant Shapps seems to think that this is the headline. He puts some of the worst spin doctors to shame. It clearly is an odd seat, which seems to view a parliamentary election as some sort of extended municipal one; nevertheless, if the electorate want to view a parliamentary election like that, that is of course their right & there’s nothing to be done about it. Perhaps such a parochial attitude also helps to explain UKIP’s strong showing. Anyone who thinks that this result is in any way a pointer to what might happen in a marginal like, say, Bury North, still less Edinburgh West, is, however, deluding him- or herself. All this result does is give us an inkling of a clue as to what might happen in this and a very small number of other similar, or slightly, similar seats. It may not even tell us what might happen in Portsmouth S, though that also has an apparently popular LD council, and Labour might not entirely welcome a by-election there in the near future.

  6. TF
    Con MEP already calls for a Con-UKIP merger (‘unite the right’, like in Canada) – surely doing so would mean an end to the coalition and comes with the risk of a Lab/Lib electoral pact?”

    Oh please. Oh PLEASE!

    Hannan is a plant isn’t he? He’s been placed in the Tory party by lefties as part of a nefarious plan to make sure that the Right is out if power for another 20 years.

    Tories. Please listen to this man. You KNOW that lurching rightwards in a country that has no well-right-of-centre majority is the thing to do. Go on!

  7. To illustrate how bad a result this could be for the Cons I thought I would pick a random seat where they should be totally safe but could well be threatened by the disproportionate swing that Eastleigh suggests to me.

    I chose Shipley

    2010 Result:
    Conservative: 24002 (48.6%)
    Labour: 14058 (28.4%)
    Lib Dem: 9890 (20%)
    Green: 1477 (3%)
    MAJORITY: 9944 (20.1%)

    which would require a 10% swing from Lab to Con.

    In reality I dont Lab could get anywhere near this kind of direct swing but even if they got around half that would take us to a Con 44 vs Lab 33 contest.

    Then if the LDs vote collapsed by the 13-14% as the National Polls (and Eastleigh would imply) and broadly speaking (say 2/3rds) went to Lab. That takes us to a Con 44 vs Lab 42…i.e. neck and neck.

    But then factor in any Con drift to UKIP, and the possibility that Lab are over achieving in seats they can win in. As opposed to doing nothing in seats they cannot win like Eastleigh. And you can suddenly see how a seat like Shipley can be possibly turned red.

    Incidentally Shipley is No.121 on the Lab target list and I am making no sort of prediction how it would go in 2015. I just thought it had the right sort of numbers to illustrate the point.

  8. The Euro election threat from UKIP to Tories in 2014, months away from the start pf the GE campaign must be the tories worst nightmare.

    Stilll, n’e’mind ay?

  9. I think the Eastleigh result confirms exactly my impression of what was happening. At the end, UKIP was surging, and almost certainly would have won it had it not been for the postal votes.

    The Lib Dems’ loss of votes was down to soft Lib Dems, of whom there are many, going to “won’t vote”, not to Labour. In this respect there was a complete stone wall on the doorstep: typically arms folded, look of total ingrained cynicism on people’s faces. Unless we can re-energise and re-engage those voters with some positive news about the economy and delivery of key objectives in government, differential turnout will, as in Eastleigh, make the LDs share of the vote slump in 2015.

  10. @Barnaby Marder

    Grant Shapps can’t of course attack UKIP or the Libs for fear of alienating 90% of Coalition MP’s. So his choices are limited.

  11. @ Barnaby Marder

    I would deduct that from what we saw last night that Lab would be on track to take both Bury North and Edinburgh West.

    Those are seats I would expect the Lab vote to reflect their suggested gains in the National VI if not more.

    Portsmouth South (my seat) would I think be an almost repeat of Eastleigh. Its a very similar seat demographically with just the addition of a university population. I think UKIP would do very well here and counter balance any loss the LDs will undoubtedly suffer. In effect it has the potential to be a genuine 4 way marginal but with Lab still in 4th place. They will not contest this too heartily in 15 I believe.

  12. From my POV, two things of national significance

    – if UKIP can’t win that by-election with absolutely everything – from them having a candidate that wasn’t too swivel-eyed, to the Tories fielding a very weak candidate, to the Lib Dems engulfed in scandal, to the right-wing press going to bat for them – going for them, it’s hard to see how they can win at all

    And this is slightly mischievous, but if Farage had a fraction of the skill of George Galloway, UKIP would have an MP now.

  13. I think the Eastleigh result confirms exactly my impression of what was happening. At the end, UKIP was surging, and almost certainly would have won it had it not been for the postal votes.

    -Yes indeed UKIP would have won if more people had voted for them.

    The same can be said of the other Monster Raving Loony Party

  14. Strangely this result seems bad for everyone:

    LibDems – collapse of vote confirming recent poll levels
    UKIP – Can’t win this type of by-election in these circumstances they will never win a By-election
    Cons- collapse of vote below poll level
    Lab -no gain whatsoever

    So who lost worse? – it is bad for UKIP IMO despite Farage’s forced gaiety last night. Galloway and Respect won in Bradford a similar type of challlange but no-one is suggesting Respect is the fourth force in British Politics

  15. I wonder if we will hear from Maria Hutchings at some point.

    BBC reports that she was “bundled from the hall” last night, having been prevented from giving an interview for the duration of the campaign.

    One of Cameron’s “A” list candidates, she had been identified as someone with populist appeal after she confronted Tony Blair on live TV in 2005.

    Primarily it was part of an attempt to rest control of candidate selection away from the UKIP-friendly wings of Tory constituency parties – she turned out to be the kind of candidate they quite liked anyway, and campaigned as the candidate endorsed by the “Local UKIP MEP” Marta Andreasen (who had already defected) – even so she ended up trailing in behind the real thing.

  16. Probably the end for her. The seat was doable but she did poorly.

  17. If ever there was a seat and a by-election where analysis of tactical voting is necessary to understand the result, it is this one. For years, Labour’s support in Eastleigh was about 55-60% of its national vote share. In 2010 this fell to about 30%. This seems to be explicable by consideration of Huhne’s position, having only just won the seat in 2005. Did Lab supporters vote tactically for Huhne? It seems the obvious answer.

    Labour’s showing last night was down to about 25% of the national VI.

    Shapps has decided that this signals a Southern meltdown for Labour but it could equally be ABtC tactical voting for either UKIP or LD.

    It’s be fascinating to see polling on the REAL reasons behind the Labour collapse in Eastleigh since 2005, but I don’t suppose any will be forthcoming.

  18. @ Grhinports

    What you say about bad for Lab in Eastleigh= better for Lab elsewhere (based on national polling) could be true.

    I do suspect however that it came down to the Lab vote being squeezed given the initial Ashcroft poll of Lab at 19%. Or at least some sort of variation on squeezed which might mean not voting because they didn’t have a chance, voting UKIP to set the cat among the pigeons, or just that some of the Lab national polling is fairly soft in the sense that yes they will vote Lab if given a straight choice between Lab and either Lib Dem or Con, but might end up doing something else if they don’t see Lab having a chance.

    I think Corby and Oldham & Saddleworth both prove the opinion polls to be correct where it matters for Labour. When you look through the Lab targets seats with Con there are so many where the Lib Dem vote is around 15% mark and Lab getting half of that makes a comfortable majority for them and I don’t see how that changes, given the 15% Lib Dem vote seems to be in many cases not a core vote but just one that came about from people fed up with Lab in 2010.

  19. Well done to the Lib Dems to be honest. A very good result given the pretty awful backdrop to the election. It shows the party is far from dead, and actually has a great strength at local level across many seats.

  20. PS

    The reasons behind the list Lab votes are crucial of course. If Labour really has collapsed to this extent then UNS calcs are blown out of the water and Lab are in trouble. If it is tactical voting hiding a larger general move to Lab in line with UNS, this is the Mother of All Problems for the Tories.

  21. List=lost. Bloody iPhone.

  22. paulcroft, how dare you.

    I said “she is an abomination”. No names were mentioned.

    I was referring to Lilith, the first wife of Adam. Obviously.

  23. The thing I am pleased about is the Press campaign did not get it’s way – so confirming that the power of the press in this digital age is much reduced.

    I am pretty disgusted with the Rennard situation but do realise that the press were using it to try to get a UKIP (I think) win.

  24. Another point the LibDem result was in line with their National polling which in a seat that they are bedded in suggests that their poll rating is the ceiling.

  25. ^ I suspect it’s tactical voting. Conservatives have a big problem. In lib/con marginals labour are voting tactically, where as in other con/lab marginals, nobody is tactically voting for them, in fact it’s the opposite, as ukip are splitting the centre right vote. Bodes badly for them, and it’s why despite what you say, conservatives do need ukip vote/voters to have any chance at the next election. I doubt it’s going to happen.

  26. Couper

    Not sure how you make that judgement.

    Up to 2010, the LD vote share in Eastleigh was typically around 1.75-2x their national vote share. In 2010 that went up to about 2.25x (simultaneously with Lab’s multiplier falling – suggesting tactical voting as discussed above).

    Last night, the LD multiplier was about 3x.

    My take is that the LDs hugely out-performed their national showing. Again, the question of whether this is from tactical voting sources is very important.

  27. As for UKIP.

    I now await some serious discussion about their tax plans. I am astonished that the Toriez have not taken this issue on yet. Their tax plans openly call for a huge cut in income tax for the very highest paid, with concomitant reductions in public services. I wonder how many of their voters last night are aware of this?

  28. Looking at the final Ashcroft poll it looks like Lab bled 2% to UKIP late on…but Con lost 3%. That’s not just tactical voting, that’s Cons choosing UKIP.

    In 2010 Con got 39% …and lost. I don’t think they are going to be winning these seats anytime soon.

    You could argur that coalition candidates won 57% of the vote (I think Schapps should have gone that route) or that right leaning candidates got 53% of the vote too (UKIP plus Con),

    But you could say also the coaltion vote fell from a total 86% of the vote in 2010 to just 53% a fall in their vote share of 33%.

    Something for everybody (except Cameron?)

  29. New Thread and PMI manufacturing figures out (not good).

    This post would not be necessary if the new thread monitors and PMI monitors were doing their jobs properly :-)

  30. Subediting: please check last paragraph: “effect” or “affect”?

  31. shevII

    I was eating my pancakes.

  32. There is still the Daily Mirror for those of us wishing to read the left wing press…or at least a Labour supporting newspaper.

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