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. Looks like a LD hold. Unless some Tory Ukippers, realising UKIP cannot win return to their original home.

  2. Or unless some tories realizing that they can’t win say sod ill vote ukip

  3. For these polls to be complete I would like to know what question was asked.

  4. A reminder of the 2010 result:

    Lib Dem 46.5%, Con 39.3 %, Lab 9.6%, UKIP 3.6%

    The polls are showing changes in the region of…

    LD -10.5/17.5%, Con – 5.3/11.3%, UKIP +9.4/17.4%, Lab +2.4/9.4%.

    Losing the incumbent MP (under whatever circumstances) is usually more of a problem for LDs, so if they hold the seat it will be quite an acheivement.

  5. Allan Sayers
    I have not seen your name before, thanks for posting. Did you mean ‘compared’ instead of ‘complete’?

  6. Cameron sending a rather confusing message here


    He says “Friday’s downgrade was “a reminder of the debt and the deficit problem”

    But I believe the rating agency actually said they were cutting the rating because of “sluggish growth”!

  7. Big question in all of this is. … things like UKip. How much is it a short-term protest vote, and how much is here to stay, affecting outcomes in the GE…

  8. I think it’s probably for the Lib Dems to lose. I would imagine a lot of their postal votes went in before the recent Lib scandal.
    To be honest I think the Lib-Dems have possibly more to lose if the Seat goes but lets see on Friday !

  9. And to even it up, John O Farrell the Labour candidate has made an equally strange remark.

    Mr O’Farrell said Mr Clegg was right to believe it was a “two-horse race”, but wrong to think the coalition parties were the only ones with a chance of winning,”

    Oh really, who else does he think has a chance? Ukip are in 3rd but they are still 12% behind the Libs.

    he said. In fact, the contest was “between Labour and the coalition”, he argued.

    Um I wouldn’t try to frame the debate in those terms if I were him, as that would mean 49% of Eastleigh is supporting the coalition as opposed to only 12% for Labour, not what I’d call a 2 horse race, by anyones calcs that would be a landslide

  10. If these polls are in anyway accurate, the hidden message might be a net Con>Lab swing… irrelevant in though it might be in Eastleigh.

  11. Amber


    More rubbish.

    Arsenal winning league in last minute of last match of season, at Liddypool, being the exception and extremely pleasing

    The 1950s were alright, wot with ole santa claus and “things” being exciting rather than ubiquitous.

  12. Of course, voters have tended to vote UKIP when they want to send a message in an election perceived to be ‘less important’ than a GE; that’s why they do so well in the Euros.

    I think that UKIP may win tomorrow; it’s interesting to read the comments on the Bradford West page posted just before Galloway’s win.

    If anything, the consensus was even stronger that he didn’t have a hope….

  13. @maninthemiddle

    It’s sluggish growth because of the debt. Same for all countries but especially the UK which has built such a large private/public debt level. Reinhart and Rogoff’s Book on the crisis is highly regarded.

  14. I think AW has it about right in his analysis, although I would suggest that of all the possible results, a UKIP really would tell us something about the state of politics on the right.

    It is extraordinarily difficult for fourth parties to win seats at Westminster in England, and apart from Wyre Valley in 1997, I think I’m correct in thinking that only George Galloway and Caroline Lucas have managed this. In both these cases the candidates were high profile individuals, and in Lucas’ case it was the result of a lengthy period of building at local level.

    The UKIP candidate isn’t high profile and there is no track record of UKIP engagement at the local level here either. Of course, I would completely agree that a UKIP win could not be transposed from Eastleigh to the general election, but it would have enormous consequences.

    Tories seem very jittery tonight.

  15. @MitM

    Yep, as ever Cameron is confusing cause and effect. The deficit is not really the problem. The problem is a lack of growth, which causes the deficit. If we had more growth, the deficit as an issue would progressively decline. Because income would rise and costs fall. ..

    Saying the deficit is the cause of the ratings downgrade is like saying you lost your house because of a deficit problem when the real reason was that you lost your job.

    Fetishising the deficit was always a mistake. If you lose your job you don’t sit around ringing your hands about your deficit. You try and get another job.

    Cameron and Osborne were focused on a strategy of preserving our credit rating, to save a bit on interest and stuff. This is playing at the margins. Small beer financially, nowhere near enough to solve the problem. The real solution is growth.

    Consequently, knocking another percentage point off interest costs still left us with a big deficit and inevitable downgrade. Growth was the only realistic way to avoid that…

  16. @MARCO

    It’s sluggish growth because of the debt. Same for all countries but especially the UK which has built such a large private/public debt level. Reinhart and Rogoff’s Book on the crisis is highly regarded.


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

  17. I think ukip may come pretty close.

  18. Even if UKip don’t win, surely getting 20% is enough to put numerous cats amongst pigeons? …

  19. Well, time indeed for soothsayers of UKPR to put their reputations (ahem) on the line. PC has just done so, well not really. Who is going to win PC? I shall stick with my original view which is that Con will win, but marginally. It ought to have been a shoe-in but the candidate is not helping (not her fault, they chose her). In a fortnight it will all be forgotten (unless UKIP win of course, then DC is toast).

    That was a dose of EM, I actually think LD should hold. :-)

  20. The lib dem candidate will win by all accounts he is very popular with a proven track record locally, not quite the same as a lib dem victory.

  21. Excellent analysis Anthony.

    I think the polling tells us the following:

    1. The left (Lab-LD) are far more sophisticated in their tactical voting than the right (Con-UKIP). The right is far more likely to split at a GE which, under the FPTP system, is a gift to Labour.

    2. There is a serious degree of dissatisfaction with the three main parties and at some point in the not too distant future UKIP will start winning seats – but not tomorrow.

  22. The trouble is , if there is an upset , it will be devalued by being seen as the result of the trial by media campaign being relentlessly waged on television .

    What promised to be a very interesting election has been ruined , and very deliberately at that .

  23. I don’t know it’s fair to say the right aren’t sophisticated in their voting.

    If anything, many leftiie LibDems are still flogging themselves over having backed Clegg in the GE.

    To many UKipers, the priority is not coalition policy and flogging off the NHS but things like immigration and if they consider Labour is just as bad in this regard then it’s entirely rational to support UKip and such pressure has already forced Cameron’s hand a bit in Europe.

  24. @ Carfrew “If anything, many leftiie LibDems are still flogging themselves over having backed Clegg in the GE.”

    Quite the opposite I think. Another thing Eastleigh is showing is that the exodus of LD to Lab since 2010 is as I have long said “soft”. The exodus will only apply where Lab have a chance of winning, otherwise it stays with LD.

    So in 2015 we can expect a large Labour majority with a fairly modest overall share of the vote.

  25. Surprised at how impressed I was at Blair’s interview, with Kirsty Wark [she is an excellent example of how women can bring something other than confrontation to the discipline without losing effectiveness – plus she was lovely on that baking competition.]

  26. Blimey – bizarre interview with Benitez re Chelski and some of their fans.

  27. @AW
    “It would suggest a problem with the by-election polls if UKIP did win.”

    It would confirm a problem. Comparing UKIP’s vote against the polls in previous by-elections already tends to suggest a problem with the by-election polls in this parliament. UKIP have tended to overachieve on their by-election polling, sometimes by wide margins (e.g. Corby). That’s my impression anyway although I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis and admittedly most by-elections so far have been in Labour seats.

    Prediction: UKIP or LD – margin of less than 1000 one way or t’other.

    BTW, just in case anyone is assuming that my prediction implies support, I wouldn’t vote UKIP in a month of Sundays, not even to set the cat among the coalition pigeons in Eastleigh.

  28. PH

    If you are correct then a fascinating weekend ahead for the tories.

  29. The opposite?? Ah, you don’t appear to have encountered as many anguished pleadings on the net as I have. It’s been like therapy at times. But I think the slump in Lib Dem VI bears it out.

    Agree the LibDem vote is malleable now that people realise voting LD is not actually a vote for anti-tuition fees, anti-austerity etc. But they didn’t realise that before the election…

    That said, politicians seem so malleable themselves these days that for all we know given the right circs UKip might vote to join Schengen for a limo and seat on the government benches. UKip’s strongest representation is in Europe. Which they supposedly want out of…

  30. LDEM

    Hardly a radical prediction. Though like a few others I think UKIP will push for second closer than the polls suggest. And if the stars align correctly…

  31. I think the Libs to win, but with a slender majority over the Tories. I expect UKIP will do very well and will get third place (probably around 25% or so of the vote).

    Like AW, I think the result will be more important to party (and coalition) morale than particularly indicative of the GE result in Easleigh/seats like Eastleigh in 2015. But it could have far-reaching ramifications for both of the coalition party’s leaders.

  32. @Paul Croft
    “Blimey – bizarre interview with Benitez re Chelski and some of their fans.”

    As a Valencia fan, I think Benítez is an underrated manager. But, in honesty, what did he expect from Chelsea and its fans? They fans never wanted him in the first place, and the Board couldn’t even gove hom the title of Manager.

    I can only think he took the job on to put himself in the shop window for the Real Madrid job when Mourinho leaves or is sacked at the end of the season (Copa del SM el Rey, or no.Copa del Rey). It hasn’t worked out for him.

  33. UKIP might sneak it – that the most fun result.

    Tories to come third anyway.

  34. Lab vs UKIP for 1st.

    Late and utter collapse for both coalition parties.

  35. On the prediction thing. ..

    For UKip to beat the Tories, they’d have to climb several more points, in just a few days. It’s doable. .. but is the momentum there? Hard to say.

    Early indications suggest that Reinhardt etc. hasn’t had much of an effect, but. MoE could be disguising it, and it was still playing out when the last poll was taken. Hard to say.

    So I genuinely dunno. It’s possible LDs could lose and/or UKip could rise further but… not enough data.

    I do think that UKip polling 20% could be significant however. It may be a protest vote, but voters protest in General Elections too, eg voting for LDs last time around. ..

  36. Reinhardt = Rennard

  37. I think it’s unlikely UKIP will get 1st or second. All the polls show they are quite a long way short of this, but I guess you never know – especially if turnout is very low tomorrow.

    The real contest is really between the Libs and Tories….in some ways, I guess, a Lib win is more needed than a Tory one….but if the Tories were to fall short, especially if were to be 2%+ short of the Libs, I think it would be likely that there would be increased pressure on Cameron from Tory backbenchers and MPs.

  38. Eastleigh must be the most over hyped by election in recent history.
    Some pollsters in the media should take a leaf out of ken Livingstons appraisal on sky news tonight .
    He said that by elections are not pointers to who wins the next GE because there are to many other factors at work.
    Mainly local issues matter more than the currant press obsession or words to that effect.
    Whatever the out come every party will have a reason why they didn’t win and all the winning party will know is there cadidate will be an MP for the next two years with no gaurantee of going on for another five.
    Still the best of luck to all candidates anybody who want’s the job of politician these day’s is going to find it tough going.

  39. Looking forwards to seeing UKIP’s actual vote numbers vs the poll results above. I think there has been a significant swing to UKIP nationally that is not reflected in the poll numbers above and national polls due to the way don’t know/ won’t says are re-allocated. If once again UKIP gets significantly higher results than polls suggest, when should polling companies adjust their formulas and question prompts which are getting it wrong time and time again to reflect the new reality that there is now a 4th party with more support than the Lib Dems nationally?

  40. turk

    Actually all of that was said better by Anthony at the top of the thread.

  41. Disagree it’s overhyped.

    It’s rather revealing. Regardless of who wins it appears to be showing the possibility that despite Rennard and Huhne and their overall standing in national VI, a solid LibDem local operation can still ensure a good showing.

    It also shows that although Labour may profit from the LibDem vote when up against the Tories, not so much at all when it’s Stories versus LDs. Is there a local factor to suggest that things might otherwise have been vety different?

    Finally it shows that UKip are growing in their ability to influence outcomes. Tories ought to be rather worried.

    Are local issues a factor? Yes. As we get more by-elections these will tend to average out, and we get a better picture. Rather than just taking one of them in isolation. .

  42. Argh

    Stories = Tories
    very = very

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

  44. Apologies. Can’t resist a footballing analogy, me.

  45. Even if the Tories scrape it tomorrow, the damage is already done.

    They know the LDs can be strong contenders in Tory – LD marginals, and there won’t likely be Huhne + Rennard factors in every seat.

    They know the left will now vote tactically to keep Tories out where before the vote was split more

    They know that the UKip factor can be much greater in some seats.

  46. carfrew

    In fact, they’re stuffed.

  47. Since we are doing football analogies………..


  48. Allan sayers

    For these polls to be complete I would like to know what question was asked.

    If you click on the name of the pollster in the table in Anthony’s post above it should take you to the detailed results for each poll, including the questions actually asked.

  49. My predication

    Lib 29%
    UKIP 28%
    Tories 21%
    Lab 14%

    based on Cleggate harming the LDs, UKIP having a bit of momenum plus being a bit underestimated, Tories lack of organisation, Labour benefiting a bit from the LD loses.

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

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

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