The turnout on the postal votes was always going to be high one (and critical on the total electorate of 79 thousand) and LibDems were confident of getting a top share, which won them the seat. Turnout was 53 % which is quite respectable (compared to 69% in 2010). No leadership excuses blaming turnout then.
The two neck & neck front runners were the Liberal Democrats (Mike Thornton, favourite) and the Conservatives (Maria Hutchings) with UKIP (Diane James) coming up fast, and Labour (John O’Farrell) trailing some lengths behind.
This by-election was never about individuals, it was about parties and even more critically and cynically about the four party leaders – Cameron, Miliband, Clegg, and Farage.
Who caught a cold? The BIGEST shock was suffered by Cameron. Definitely!
It has to be remembered that in its early life this seat was held for forty years by the Conservatives, but the
LibDems upset the applecart with a massive swing some twenty years ago and have hung onto it ever since (as well as establishing political citadel for themselves at the local level). In this by-election the LibDems had a political score to settle with their parliamentary partners who have shamelessly taken advantage of their misfortunes and acrimoniously did the dirty on them.
The Conservatives were very confident of grabbing the seat back this time – their coalition partners were in disarray, were proven fibbers, had lost a substantive element of their national support, and at the last minute had shot themselves in the foot with bad publicity.
This was an election that Cameron HAD to win. The consensus feeling in all political circles was that if he couldn’t win what was a ‘target list’ seat under these favourable circumstances, then there would be no chance of getting a majority at the next general Election. The fear of Tory MPs about losing their seats and expenses would quickly go critical and Cameron’s career would end up in the trash before 2015. HE IS DOWN THE PAN.
For Miliband there was never any real prospect of a Labour breakthrough. He had to be seen to ‘not fail’ – that meant he had to get a decent share of the vote, otherwise the public would see him as a looser at precisely the time they were beginning to have heard of him. As poling day for this by-election approached and Labour’s prospects faded they handled that by saying that it didn’t matter and they weren’t bothered about how they did. They will come to regret that tactic and Miliband will be increasingly disconsolate about his prospects of becoming Prime Minister in two years time. While Miliband has enjoyed watching UKIP kicking the Tories backside hard it was a double edge sword because the downside is that it puts pressure on his policy of opposing a European referendum. HE IS A WORRIED MAN.
Clegg approached polling day as the guy with the most to lose. Defending a supposedly ‘safe’ seat, but actually with a vulnerable majority, at a time when the party was at an unbelievable low level in the polls. On top of that he was perceived as being the one in the hot seat – the seat OUGHT to be retained and if it wasn’t then HE and he alone was to blame. Not fair, but life is seldom fair, and certainly not in politics. Clegg has continued to ignore the fact that his days are numbered anyway – either through ignorance or stupidity. HE IS ON BORROWED TIME.
The only one of the leaders who slept well and had a good dream on the night before the election was Farage. The other three, Cameron, Miliband, Clegg all had a sleepless nights accompanied by nightmares about this result. Farage had succeeded in running the Tories ragged throughout and certainly had threatened the outright win of the seat. He had achieved precisely the public attention he had seen in his dream! HE IS RIDING THE WAVE.
Sleeping badly tonight again will be Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband (but NOT Nigel Farage).
The Eastleigh By-Election may be over now but it is a dead certainty that this is not the last you will have to hear about its consequences.