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. According to Shapps though, the story is Labour’s poor showing…

  2. Lib Dem 32.1% (2010 46.5%) -14.4%
    UKIP 27.8% (2010 3.6%) +24.2%
    Con 25.4% (2010 39.3%) -13.9%
    Lab 9.8% (2010 9.6%) + 0.2%

  3. It’s amazing how UKIP dismiss postal voters as the reason for their failure . They had Eastleigh on a plate thanks to the media and the opportunities for negative smearing , and they failed .

    Sensational result for the LDs .


    ” it doesn’t mean anything, it’s a by election, it’s about local issues’ Schapps

    I think he is right: like the cost of the weekly shopping, fuel prices, bus fairs, cost of rail to London for commuters, youth unemployment – that kind of thing.

  5. 22,000 votes for the blue and purple, the tories will be livid, ukip cost them the seat

  6. Late swing to UKIP or shy UKIPPERS ?

  7. Big Trouble for cameron. Their will be big pressure from his own party to pull right to stop losing votes to UKIP.

    False dawn for the lib dems. Eastleigh was a bit of a special case – their local election results had bucked the national trend so its not too big a surprise they held on here. Clegg keeps his job. Might be a very different story after the may elections.

    Poor for labour – but given it was a lot worse for the tories and the next election is between those two, it makes it relatively good for labour in a weird way.

    Edit – jsut been pointed out that the lib dem vote is DOWN 14% on 2010 – so pretty much in line with their dire poll ratings.

  8. @john pilgrim

    Yep. Local issues that just happen to be local issues in other constituencies too. …

  9. John Curtice says the Cons and the LD’s were down 14%, and Labour’s ‘progress’ is very poor. (Labour were on 28% in 1994 by election under Margaret Beckett.

    The figures confirm apparenty the low poll ratings.

  10. John Curtice saying that slight Labour increase is simply dreadful for them.

    I really don’t understand why when Lab haven’t done anything in Eastleigh since 1994 – pre-boundary change.

    Lab won’t be targeting seats like this in 2015 & I don’t think this hurts them nearly as much as the tory collapse.

  11. Unbelievable – Shapps still banging on about the Lab performance.

  12. Anit-Austerity/Anti-Toffs rule/poor management of the recession, NHS and schools NOT OK vote, equally divided between LD and UKIP

  13. Shapps saying that at least “we didn’t collapse”. He’s making me feel like Ed Balls does when trying to explain the growth thing, or Vince saying we’re like Greece. ..


  14. Odd that both the libdem and tory votes are down by roughly the same amount. You could say they have shared the blame equally

  15. I forgot to add the “try this one on your nose, whack!” vote

  16. It was a by election where it was worthwhile voting and the anti Government vote ignored Labour in an area where their One Nation strategy has to work . It’s in tatters . The LD s and the Cameroons are the winners

  17. Chas

    Are you saying that the parties that lost the most voters are the winners? A very strange definition of winning

    Libs did well to hang on to the seat but ukip were the real winners here

  18. @Chas

    Sure, LDs should be pleased holding the seat in the depths of scandal. And Simon Hughes was just saying that UKip holding Tories back in LDs/Tory marginals means LibDems can redeploy resources to LDs/Labour marginals

    But Shapps was saying “Labour have all the difficulties”, when it isn’t even on Labour’s top 100 list of targets. It’s hardly a seat they need to win. I know he has to put a brave face on things but the way he’s talking you’d think Tories had won the seat. ..

  19. Well the pollsters got UKIP completely wrong! They said 21% and UKIP got 28%. Time to re-look at their questions and how they allocate don’t knows/ won’t says I think to reflect that there are now 4 national parties.

  20. Lets see if there is a surge in the daily YouGov VI for UKIP. Interesting that the UKIP candidate had a pop at the pollsters for not naming them when carrying out a poll.

    Good night all.

  21. Looking forward to Anthony’s next post. Lots to chew over. .

    Alternatively, as predicted by the few contributors who have worked closely with Lab and LD campaigns and have any knowledge of voting intentions and underlying attitudes and issues in the South, the social democratic vote has been deployed by voters to support the LD candidate, and to send a very clear message to the Tories and to the Coalition Government. LD and “and the Cameroons have won!” May i amend that: LD have won; Clegg has received a clear message from his supporters: move away. And – don’t kid yourself – Cameron has received a probably mortal black eye.

    I know the Cameroons quite well (I would, wouldn’t I? They share the Sahel with the Malians.) and they will be very happy to think that this lot and their benign marriage between military interventions and aid will not have time to happen. Time to go, Schapps, Old Boy.

  23. Did anyone happen to catch that fleeting moment when Grant Shapps pointed out how disastrous a night it’s been for Labour?

    “Did anyone happen to catch that fleeting moment when Grant Shapps pointed out how disastrous a night it’s been for Labour?”

    Oh no, I must have missed that…. ;-)

    I heard him on the beeb all evening and he was deflecting at every opportunity:

    AN: Tory vote collapsed
    GS: yes but look how badly Lab did, dreadful for Lab

    on & on on a repeat loop

    Surely he must realise how ridiculous he looks ?

  25. The pollsters got the UKIP share much closer before they allocated don’t knows according to how they said they voted at the last election.

    Maybe it’s time to ditch this practice as far as by-elections are concerned.

  26. Telegraph verdict


    Oh dear, standards are slipping.

  27. Tim Farron says Tories will learn the wrong lessons and think “WE’RE NOT MAD ENOUGH”

  28. Here’s mud in eye for Grant Schapps
    We will count him as one of the Chaps
    Tory voters are dropping
    While Grant’s corks are popping
    Grant’s the man to to laud Tory Collapse.

  29. An uncomfortable night for david Cameron. Disappointing for labour, sigh of relief for the lib dems.

    UKiP I now expect to see some light shone on the rest of their policies. As a scientist I can say appealing to science their energy policy is insane and understanding and description of physics highly suspect.

    Interesting times.

  30. meanwhile…..Latest YouGov / The Sun results 28th February – CON 29%, LAB 42%, LD 12%, UKIP 11%; APP -35

  31. YouGov
    Con 29, Lab 42, LD 12, UKIP 11
    App -35

  32. It’s really quite fascinating. The Tories have historically always been right-wing enough/the electorate stubborn enough to prevent the advance of any party to the right of them (which isn’t the case with the main right-of-centre parties in France, the Netherlands, Austria and so on). This begs the question – if Labour were still in power now and pushing austerity measures through, would the Greens (or another party to the left of Labour) be having similar successes at the moment?

    “Someone refers to Claire Perry here as “an abomination”. Their post remains in place.”


    Maybe he agreed with Nick?. ..

  34. As a Labour voter, I have to admit that, if the reds couldn’t win, that is not a bad result. Good for LD obviously.

    Con with only quarter of the vote in the deep deep south? That last happened in Eastleigh in 1994 and at the following general they got stomped. And nationally, right on cue, Yougov have Con on 29%.

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

  35. Fake furrowed brow on Labour (GE now pretty much in bag). Fake huge smile on Lib Dem (fair chance 50% will keep jobs). Huge smile on UKIP (they might come second in a few seats). Giant smile and sweaty palms on Con (scramble for 2020 begins). Weird how the ones in fourth have most to smile about.


    “UKiP I now expect to see some light shone on the rest of their policies.”


    Maybe. Not sure it’ll make much difference though.

    If it’s a protest vote, and the voters are not expecting UKip to form the next government, why would the other policies matter. Or if for some it’s not a protest vote and they are wanting to put pressure regarding the issue they feel most important – eg immigration – then, again, the other policies don’t much matter.

  37. The Lib Dems were very wise to go for a quick election. A few more weeks and it could have been a very different result.

  38. Is there special moderation for the new constituency pages, btw?

    ” why would the other policies matter”
    Because UKIP will now be wanting to show their supporters that they have policies, so are not just a protest movement, and in order to consolidate their membership and organisation around a more specific “mission”. So yes, I would expect them to be doing some policy research and formulation around how to reform, if not to stay out of, the EU, and around immigration and a British jobs policy.

  40. Farage seems to be focusing on the European elections in June next year…. and from there be in a strong enough position to dictate the terms of an electoral pact with the Tories.

    From what he has said about the Conservative leader on Today this morning, one would have to expect Cameron to be the first casualty in that scenario.

  41. In the cold light of day, with the actual votes, cast Anthony’s analysis looks even better than it did yesterday.

    Plenty of people will claim this and that and it will be the fallout that matters. But…. UKIP vote at 11.5k is not going to win them any seats- they have something to build on but can they? It is a by-election and the protest vote went to UKIP but not enough to win them the seat. UKIP and Con vote together could easily knock the Lib Dems vote out next time but will it? Lab vote disappointing for them but does it make any difference?

    Too many unknowns, particularly with 17% less people voting in this by-election than at a General Election. Even what I said yesterday about Lib Dems being able to squeeze the LAB vote in LIb Dem-Con marginals may not be enitrely proven because of the lower turnout.

    Obviously Lib Dems and UKIP will be happy with the events but it really doesn’t tell us that much other than that the Lib Dems are possibly not facing the total wipeout some were expecting and that UKIP remain a potential threat to the Con vote.

  42. Definitely a worrying night for the Tories, although I suspect this is largely a new form of “protest vote” politics (swings from LD to UKIP?) The question, as has been pointed out, is whether Eastleigh causes the party to give itself any more self-inflicted wounds.

    Hutchings clearly wasn’t a very good candidate, either in terms of her political positioning or in an absolute sense of the word. I fully understand why they kept her though. To have parachuted in some suave London lawyer with oodles of wiggy glibness would probably have caused a massive stink locally, and looked sexist, ageist and classist at the same time. I don’t rate her chances of being the candidate in 2015.

    In a way the Tories (and the LDs obviously) were lucky that UKIP didn’t squeak in at the post. Memories of the UKIP 2nd place may fade fairly quickly. An actual living, breathing UKIP MP would have been a constant reminder. Of course there is always the possibility of a defection, if someone (named Dorries perhaps) actually scents a chance that they could “go UKIP” and not automatically lose their seat.

    LDs will be very relieved that their hunch about national polling not necessarily being applicable to their local chances was right. I think it was always obviously that they weren’t going to get the drubbing in 2015 that UNS would suggest (even if they don’t recover in the national vote, which I think they will). They will also be hoping that a new “split right” phenomenon will enable them to pick up Tory seats, particularly in the south and south west.

    For Labour it is perhaps an indication that they are on course for a successful 2015 in terms of seats, but perhaps not a spectacular vote share. There doesn’t seem to be a “red wave” of public sentiment like in 1997, but a combination of seeing off the boundary changes and a split right might see them getting a large majority on a vote share not much more than a 1/3 of those cast.

    Ultimately though, it’s a mid term by election. We’ve all been here before, in terms of huge extrapolations to the next GE which turn out to be way off the mark.

  43. @john pilgrim

    Sure, from the point of view of UKip it may matter to have more policies, but not necessarily so much for the voters. They can continue to vote for them as a protest or because of immigration without worrying about other policies as UKip are unlikely to form the next government.

  44. Eastleigh has a population 96% UK born and 95% White. Unemployment isn’t an issue locally and immigration isn’t either.

    (A case of not coming here and not taking our jobs)
    Those Parties that campaign based on let’s be honest xenophobia (all be it of the UKIP Blazer variety rather than the BNP Skin head version) do best when the fear they are posing doesn’t actually exist.

    UKIP will never achieve national breakthrough because they do not resonate at all in those multicultural areas where they need to perform well as the local populations there no these fears to be largely unrealised in reality.

    It is incumbent on the Media and the other Political Parties to expose to public scrutiny UKIP’s other polices as beyond the One Trick Pony of departure from the EU and manning the battlements against the perfidious foreigners it’s polices are IMO akin to the worst excesses of the Republican Tea Party.

    Also strangely enough if Labour, owing to the vicissitudes of FPTP, had done much better then this would probably allowed the Tories or UKIP to win.

  45. With regards to labours disappointing performance – its all relative.

    If you are standing still but your rival is moving backwards you are effectively going forwards.

  46. The only crumb of comfort here for Cameron is that Labour didn’t do anything, but realistically that’s a classic 3rd (4th) party squeeze – Labour didn’t have to do anything here. I’m reminded of the joke about the two monkeys and the constipated elephant. Even if they are up to their knees in it, Labour can laugh as loud as they like over this one, as the Tories are completely buried by it.

    This is also the first proper test of @Chrislane1945’s long held mantra that the Lib Dem poll support is over rated. He predicted a Tory win, so we can now say clearly he was wildly wrong, and many of us suspected.

    For Cameron – problems. Wasn’t the referendum announcement meant to neuter UKIP? In fact, as some of us predicted, all it seems to have done is make UKIP views appear more mainstream and therefore more supportable amongst sections of the electorate.

  47. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100151515/as-long-as-the-eurosceptic-vote-is-fragmented-the-euro-enthusiasts-will-keep-winning/
    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?

  48. Well done UKIP – but the real meat will be the movements between the parties, who defected to whom?

    Despite UKIPs stunning result they still remain a minority across the UK as a whole. If Cons chase the right, they lose to the left. Interesting times

  49. Off to work now so just a couple of observations for now.

    1. @Paul C
    For veracity, Grant Shapps’ pronouncements on the results match his pronouncements on the impact of the coaltion’s housing policy when housing minister. He really is a delightful individual, isn’t he?

    2. Don’t know reallocations in by-elections make little sense in situations where there has been a major shift in support.

    3. Despite a 14% LD loss in vote share, this result may just about be enough to allow Clegg to cling on. Which is probably good news for Labour.

    OK, that’s three.

  50. @ Chordata

    “John Curtice saying that slight Labour increase is simply dreadful for them.
    I really don’t understand why when Lab haven’t done anything in Eastleigh since 1994 – pre-boundary change.
    Lab won’t be targeting seats like this in 2015 & I don’t think this hurts them nearly as much as the tory collapse.”

    Far be it for me to contradict an eminent psephologist like Professor John Curtis BUT…

    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.

    I mean it has to be happening somewhere doesn’t it if its not happening in Eastleigh.

    Now it could be Lab are piling up scores of redundant votes in their own safe seats, but I am sceptical about that. More likely is that in most of the rest of the country the lost LD vote (once the don’t knows, wont votes are subtracted out) will be going to Lab. And the fact this didnt happen in Eastleigh probably means elsewhere its happening in larger numbers than the national polls show.

    After all we all get terribly excited by the daily YouGov tracker (can we note that in this the LDs do seem up a point or two just recently?) but the figures actually mean nothing. Under FPTP its how vote transmutes into seats that counts.

    So perversely I think Labs Eastleigh result is fantastic for them in terms of winning the GE if not in conveying the One National message. Which would Lab supporter prefer? (smiley)

    Pretty good result for the LDs too in that it shows they can probably hold on in their heartlands. Again the point stands about how votes transmute into seats. It wont matter too much to the LDs if they lose a third to a half of their vote but hold onto the bulk of their seats. At least they wont feel so cheesed off about the unfairness of how it takes them 5 x more voters to get an MP. Whereas I suspect after holding this seat they will now feel there is a genuine future for them post-coalition.

    Disastrous night for Con and in particular DC who surely now is going to come under a lot of pressure from all sides. Whilst it might well seem like the panacea is to move further right I dont think this will necessary put the UKIP genie back in the bottle. Meanwhile it opens up the door for other more moderate leaning Cons (or even just anti-Labs) to desert in the LD direction. Stuck between a rock and a hard place me thinks.

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