Liberal Democrats win Eastleigh By-election

Yesterday’s by-election in Eastleigh, while perhaps lacking great strategic importance, seems to have summarised the state of British politics, half way into our experimental coalition.  The results were as follows:

Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 13,342 (32.06%, -14.48%)

Diane James (UKIP) 11,571 (27.80%, +24.20%)

Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 10,559 (25.37%, -13.96%)

John O’Farrell (Labour) 4,088 (9.82%, +0.22%)

Danny Stupple (Independent) 768 (1.85%, +1.56%)

Dr Iain Maclennan (National Health Action Party) 392 (0.94%)

Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 235 (0.56%)

Kevin Milburn (Christian Party) 163 (0.39%)

Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 136 (0.33%)

Jim Duggan (Peace Party) 128 (0.31%)

David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 72 (0.17%)

Michael Walters (English Democrats) 70 (0.17%, -0.30%)

Daz Procter (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) 62 (0.15%)

Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 30 (0.07%)

I’d expected to be wrong in my prediction that the Conservatives would win for the last week or so; I had underestimated the local popularity the Liberal Democrats possessed, Eastleigh being one of the few councils where they have managed to cling on to power since entering government.   I also underestimated the importance of individual candidates.  Still, you live and learn.

This is certainly good news for Nick Clegg, who I imagine will sleep easier with the relief of these results.  This is the first piece of good news in a long list of blows for the Liberal Democrats.  Whether this will become a turning point in their fortunes remains to be seen, although I highly doubt it.  Eastleigh is something of a stronghold for the Liberal Democrats – their greatest threat was to be dislodged by the Conservatives, who performed around 7% behind the Lib Dems in 2010.  Clearly, this never happened, but the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote has significantly decreased, all the way from 46.5% to 32.06%.  This drop of 14% is, in fact, slightly greater than their decline in national polls since 2010.  So while a victory for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, they must not be complacent.  They have shown that oblivion might not be on the cusp of their political horizon, but let there be no doubt that an incredible uphill struggle lies ahead if they seek any respectable result in 2015.

The real victors, in my opinion, have been UKIP, who won their greatest ever share of the vote in an election.  This will undoubtedly provide evidence to Nigel Farage’s narrative that UKIP are a rising political force and, I have to admit, I’m wondering whether he is right.  A large proportion of UKIP’s vote is due to the protest factor, with the Liberal Democrats no longer the traditional ‘protest party’.  This phenomenon was seen in last year’s Bradford by-election, in which Respect’s George Galloway won with a significant majority.  Nevertheless, UKIP has established itself as a party with wide support.  If it maintains its current popularity in 2015 there is a good chance is will win its first MPs in the House of Commons, although it will suffer the same vote/seat ratio difference which has plagued the Liberal Democrats as a result of our First Past the Post voting system.  Nigel Farage will be very happy just now.

The two losers of this election, it gives me some pleasure to type, are the UK’s largest political forces, Labour and the Conservatives.  The Conservatives did respectfully, but David Cameron could really have used a victory to help his ailing popularity levels within his own party.  He will also probably be despondent that his declaration to hold a European Union referendum if winning the 2015 General Election has done nothing to stem the growth of UKIP.  Labour likewise should not be too discouraged, due to having a lack of a base to build on.  I’ve read analyses stating that less popular parties often tend to be marginalised in by-elections, which I’d imagine to be the case here.

Most political commentators have stated that by-elections are not of great overall importance, which is true, but they’re still very exciting to examine and pore over.

The Many Colours of Eastleigh

The Eastleigh by-election, set to be a fierce contest between both coalition parties, is being contested by 14 candidates.  I won’t go into the analytical ins and outs of this election – I’m sure other commentators have already exhausted everything which can be said – but there’s one detail I’d like to pick up upon.

Take a look at the list of candidates:

COLIN BEX – Wessex regionalists
DAVID BISHOP – Elvis Loves Pets Party
JIM DUGGAN – Peace Party
RAY HALL – Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party
HOWLING LAUD HOPE – Monster Raving Loony William Hill Party
MARIA HUTCHINGS – Conservative
DIANE JAMES – UK Independence Party
DR IAIN MACLENNAN – National Health Action Party
KEVIN MILBURN – Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
DARREN PROCTER – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
DANNY STUPPLE – Independent
MIKE THORNTON – Liberal Democrats
MICHAEL WALTERS – The English Democrats – “Putting England First!”

Perhaps it’s only because I’m fond of the party, but the lack of any Green politicians is interesting.  The Green Party is, at best, a fringe party with few backers, so I’m not necessarily surprised that they can’t field candidates at every election.  However considering the Green Party, who have one MP, aren’t on the list, it is perhaps bizarre to see  parties such as the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’, ‘Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party’ and the ‘Elvis Loves Pets Party’ standing.  The ballot paper must almost look like a satirical piece.  There’s also no Respect candidates, despite their MP also.  Yet UKIP are being widely commented upon, which currently goes unrepresented in the House of Commons.

If I was a voter in Eastleigh, I really don’t know who I would vote for in party terms.  It would probably come down to the individual candidates.  I certainly don’t want either of the coalition parties to win this seat.  Labour might even be the best option, and in most circumstances I would be very reluctant to go near Labour!  Would ‘Peace’ be too wishy-washy…?  Hm.

Prediction: I don’t know very much about Eastleigh at all, but I can see the Conservatives winning this seat, unfortunately.  I don’t envisage redemption for the Lib Dems anytime soon, and Labour does not have enough support in this constituency.  But time will tell.  By-elections are so exciting, aren’t they?!

In other, unrelated news, today is the 3 month anniversary of my vegetarianism, and I’m more determined to stick with it than ever.