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No, Eastleigh Isn’t Just Another By-Election. It Shows How The Odds Are Stacked Against Cameron For 2015.

Last Updated: Friday, March 1st, 2013

Let’s stand back from the micro-detail of yesterday’s Eastleigh by-election result – such as the role of the candidates or the parties’ campaign machines – look at the macro-picture, and ask ourselves what light it casts, if any, on the likely outcome of the next election.

David Cameron has two means of gaining the majority in 2015 that eluded him in 2010 – winning seats from Labour and from the Liberal Democrats.  (Both can be done at once, at least on paper.)

Eastleigh is a Conservative-LibDem marginal.  Today’s result therefore holds few lessons, if any, for the Conservative-Labour marginals, most of which are set in the midlands and the north, next time round.  It reminds us that Ed Miliband isn’t Tony Blair – in other words, he can’t cut through in a LibDem-Con southern marginal, and win over a mass of voters who support the two other main parties, but we knew that anyway.

However, it does contain lessons for the 20 or so Libdem-Con marginals that, if won by David Cameron next time round, might just push him over the winning line.

The more lumpy the LibDem vote is – in other words, the more it accumulates in LibDem seats, rather than spreading itself more evenly across all constituencies – the more of its current seats the party is likely to hold.  Eastleigh is in one sense the safest of the LibDem-Con marginals, since the party holds every single local council seat within the constituency.

Some argued before the by-election that if Cameron couldn’t win Eastleigh, he won’t be able to win any of those marginals in 2015.  I think this is a bit harsh, given the LibDem’s exceptional strength in the seat.  My view, rather, was that if Nick Clegg didn’t hold Eastleigh he couldn’t hold many LibDem-Con marginals next time round.  And I believe it is unlikely that his party will hold all of them.  (The LibDems will find it harder to fend off Labour’s bid for their more left-wing voters in 2014, since their national campaigning operation will be stretched across the country – and not concentrated, as it was in Eastleigh.)

None the less, the by-election has proved that, where the LibDems are well dug in, it will be very hard for Cameron to winkle them out in 2015 – all or even most of them, anyway.  In this sense, Eastleigh is an ominous result for him, and not just another here today, gone tomorrow by-election.

And then there is UKIP, which won three per cent of the vote at the last election, and probably deprived Cameron of about five seats.  (Talk of it having stopped him winning 20 or so is overblown – because, until this Parliament, the evidence suggested that UKIP wasn’t taking a much larger proportion of votes from the Conservatives than from the other main parties.)

Yesterday, UKIP won 28 per cent of the vote in Eastleigh, and the result suggests that it drew evenly from both the main contenders in the seat.  (Its vote rose by 24 per cent, and that of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote fell by 14 per cent in each case.)  It is currently running at nine per cent nationwide according to YouGov.

UKIP’s second place in Eastleigh confirms that it has established itself as the “plague on all your houses” party, and that it now has a good enough operation to do very well indeed in by-elections.  A key point is that, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling and other research suggests, the more UKIP’s support has grown, the bigger the proportion of it is that comes from the Conservatives.

In short, Cameron has to win back the former Tory supporters who have helped to plump UKIP up to nine per cent, and get it back down to the three per cent it won in 2010.  This looks like a tall order.

I wrote at the end of last year that, while Cameron may still be Prime Minister after 2015, leading a minority government or a coalition or even a Con-LibDem coalition once again, he won’t win a majority.  Eastleigh has reinforced this view in my mind.

By Paul Goodman



Tim Montgomerie in the wake of the Eastleigh result: Cameron’s Conservatism is too small, too narrow, too unambitious, too unbalanced, too inconsistent: “Cameron must ignore the false choices. He must choose breadth over centrist narrowness that alienates the Right or Right-wing narrowness that offends floating voters. We need a full spectrum, big orchestral, across-the-stage Conservatism. A successful Conservative Party will be as committed to the NHS as it is to a vote on Europe. As committed to job creation as to cutting the deficit. As worried about the marginal tax rates facing the poor as the rich. Putting it simplistically, before the last election Cameron neglected the Right and he sowed the seeds for UKIP’s growth. In recent times he has lost his outreach credentials – notably by pursuing the NHS reforms and allowing Labour to present the Tories as a party of the rich. The greatest risk to him is that he looks inauthentic – swinging from modernisation to traditionalism.” Read more:

Steve Barclay MP: Foreign doctors working in the NHS should be able to speak English to a safe standard: “Every day, thousands of foreign doctors bring their valuable expertise to the NHS and work tirelessly to improve the lives of their patients.  They deserve our praise and gratitude. However, we owe it to patients to ensure that those responsible for their care meet basic linguistic and medical standards before they are allowed to practice.

Strengthening the GMC’s powers to check a doctor’s ability to speak English and enforce sanctions for malpractice across the EU are basic protections which we can no longer afford to overlook. As the events of past weeks have shown, when it comes to regulating for proper standards of care, the stakes are just too high.” Read more:

Paul Goodman: After Rennard, Parliament may seek to bar sexism, with good consequences – and bad ones: “More likely, the Code of Conduct for MPs will be amended to bring bullying and harassment and suchlike clearly within its remit, and the role of the Commissioner for Standards will be beefed up further.  Some consequences of such change are unknown, but one is certain.  More able men who are considering trying to enter the Commons will sniff the wind, and decide that it is not for them – especially those who work in small business or for themselves or in parts of the private sector.  I’m not suggesting that a crackdown on harassment would be wrong (indeed, one is overdue); or that all men who work in private enterprise or want to enter the Commons are able (far from it); or that they are more or less likely to bully or harass than anyone else – only that such change will provide a further disincentive for such people to become MPs.” Read more:

Lord Ashcroft: Liberal Democrats 5% ahead in Eastleigh: “This is the first poll whose fieldwork took place after news broke of two big political stories – the accusations against Lord Rennard, and the loss of Britain’s AAA credit rating. Neither seems to have made a difference: views of the Lib Dems as a party have held up, presumably because politicians behaving badly is hardly news, and Cameron and Osborne remain well ahead of Miliband and Balls when it comes to trust on the economy…Crucially, the Lib Dems are well ahead on “understanding the Eastleigh constituency and representing local people in parliament”. Four in ten of all voters in the seat think this, as do 90% of those who intend to vote for Mr Thornton. Nearly half of voters generally, and two thirds of Lib Dems, say getting the best local MP will be the most important factor in their voting decision.” Read more:

Andrew Lilico: Why we lost the AAA and what it means now: “Some of us urged from the start that the government’s forecasts for underlying growth were overly optimistic.  It was possible that, without the Eurozone crisis and if the second phase of QE had started in 2010, as it should have been, growth could have picked up in 2011 and 2012, but even then that would have been unsustainable and inflationary.  We have seen since 2007 that whenever the economy is not actually contracting, inflation goes up to 5% and rising.  If we had had strong growth, that inflation would surely have been even worse (and if we do get recovery now, expect it to be inflationary).  The Eurozone crisis has simply smoothed out slow average growth. Whether in the form of sustained near-stagnation or in the form of boom-and-bust, average annual growth from 2007 to 2017 is unlikely to be much above 1% and may be lower.” Read more:

Harry Phibbs: George Osborne needs to develop an interest in boring spending cuts: “Sooner or later there will have to be real cuts in total state spending. Whatever your views on the politics or morality of tax increases, they just don’t work when it comes to economics. We are at a point where for many specific taxes, (for instance Graham Brady has looked at air Passenger Duty) the probability is that tax revenue would be increased by cutting the tax rate.  And it is fairly clear that increasing the overall tax burden constrains growth and total tax revenue. Cue shroud-waving. Lots of earnest talk about how “painful” cuts are going to be. However the experience of local government, my regular perch on this site, suggests that despair is misplaced. There have been real spending cuts in local government – 8.7% in 2011-12 alone – and this year saw another 3.5% cut . The cuts were preceded with much talk of doom and gloom. Yet satisfaction with council services has increased.” Read more:

Mark Field MP: The deeper discontent beneath the mansion tax debate: “If we are to oppose vigorously a mansion tax, we must rapidly come up with an alternative solution before we cede these contentious and important matters to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It is not difficult to frame this debate in a distinctly ‘Conservative’ way. The principles that make capitalism work are being warped and it is for our Party to declare that it wishes to address that in order to nourish hard work, aspiration and responsibility. This is not about envious wealth confiscation, rather a government addressing the structural problems that are snuffing out ambition…Enough with public hand wringing and moralising. Ultimately these are issues which politicians are elected to address – we must now change the rules of the game.” Read more:

By Paul Goodman

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