Eastleigh by-election: my first thoughts

Let’s consider the backdrop: we’re polling at half the level we were in 2010; the previous MP, Chris Huhne, was forced to resign after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice and faces a prison sentence; we’ve just endured a week of torrid publicity. And yet we’ve held on.

It’s true that, in some ways, Eastleigh was a good seat for us to have to contest. The party is immensely strong in the area, holding every council seat, and runs a popular council.

However, what has been immensely encouraging has also been the clear evidence Lib Dem activists remain keenly motivated. The level of enthusiasm – hundreds, thousands of volunteers visiting, phoning, donating over this 3-week campaign – has been startlingly positive.

Partly, it’s the chance to put across the Lib Dem message. But it’s also been about the chance to let off steam against a Tory party – personified by Maria Hutchings – which has reverted to type: anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare.

That’s not the ‘liberal Conservative’ party David Cameron promised to lead. And in reality he no longer leads his party. Instead he is dragged along in the wake of his rebellious, discontented, Ukip-inclined backbenchers.

Ukip is the only other party which can view Eastleigh with pleasure. Assisted by a talented candidate, Diane James (who I’d suggest was a bigger vote-winner for the party than Nigel Farage would’ve been), they have shown themselves to be an effective harvester of ‘None of the above’ voters.

The chances of them topping the Euro 2014 poll seem greatly increased. There must also now be the very real possibility that Ukip could win a by-election if the right seat comes up.

Clearly they have taken votes from all three main parties in Eastleigh – but it is the Tories who will feel the threat most keenly. Of course, if they’d campaigned for AV they’d have very little to worry about. But then not for nothing were they once characterised as ‘The Stupid Party’.

As for Labour, where were they? (And frankly who cares?) They’ll take no pleasure in finishing a poor fourth. But they’ve no need to panic either. This was not their by-election and they knew it. They can win a general election without winning seats like Eastleigh.

Most Labour members I’ve spoken to were half-cheering on the Lib Dems. Partly, yes, to mischief-make against the Coalition. But also partly because, once again, an anti-Tory coalition is beginning to form. That isn’t the same as saying a Lib-Lab pact it’s on the cards – there is still a fair amount of lingering bitterness on both sides – but we are beginning to recognise a common enemy: reactionary conservatism, whether in the guise of Ukip or the Tories.

Oh, and one other loser in all this: the right-wing press, which has tried shamelessly to exploit the allegations against Chris Rennard for the political gain of the Tories. To be clear, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman deserves nothing but praise for her original investigation. Nor do I have any complaints at the timing, however unfortunate it has been from the perspective of the Eastleigh campaign. The most important thing in all this is that we as a party find out the truth about these allegations, and act to put our house in order.

But the idea the party has anything to learn about how to treat women with respect from the Daily Mail (or the Telegraph) is ludicrous. Their onslaught in the past week has been nakedly politically motivated – and so transparently that the public appears to have shrugged its shoulders. (Perhaps letting the leadership off-the-hook more than they deserved.) The TV news channels may take their cue from the press. It turns out the voters are a bit more independently minded.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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80 Comments

  • Well done, Mike. It’s been a great campaign with the party uniting around you.
    Perhaps our victory might obtain a mention in the ‘Daily Mail’, although probably not on its front page.

  • Are the public getting tired of gonzo journalism?

  • David Evans 1st Mar '13 - 3:17am

    Good result at a very difficult time. Now we all have 26 months to get it right.

    Biggest factor in our success – an excellent local team and lots and lots of outside help.
    Biggest reason for Conservative failure – candidate.
    Biggest reason for UKIP failure – Farage bottled it; if he had stood, it would have been tough.
    Biggest reason for Labour triumph – pretending a loss of 1,000 votes is a gain of 0.2%.

  • Paul McKeown 1st Mar '13 - 3:18am

    Diane James was a much more credible candidate than the Conservative candidate. I sincerely hope she stands elsewhere in Hampshire in 2015; she will eventually be an MP. Mike Thornton was exactly the candidate the Lib Dems needed, solid, locally based, yet clearly Lib Dem too. He is to be congratulated. I thought his interview was brilliant.

    Nevertheless, a three horse race, and not an entirely convincing victory. If this is repeated in 2015 with a very split conservative vote, then the Lib Dems will pick up 85 seats. If this is repeated, but with the Conservatives managing to capture the Kipper vote, whilst the Lib Dems drop by 14.5%, then the LDs will fall to 35.

    Most reading here would prefer 85 seats. One way only – making government work for Lib Dem voters, as Lib Dem voters dreamed when they cast their votes. And that won’t be easy. Just necessary.

  • Alex Sabine 1st Mar '13 - 3:42am

    A perceptive and mostly fair-minded analysis Stephen, and I agree with many of your points. However, I do have a couple of quibbles/observations:

    1. The UKIP surge at the expense of both the Tories and Lib Dems (by a similar swing in each case I understand) doesn’t, on the face of it, suggest voters have turned against David Cameron for being insufficiently ‘liberal’ on issues like the EU, immigration and welfare. If anything both coalition parties are losing votes to UKIP over at least the first two of those issues (which, of course, UKIP is skilfully presenting as inextricably linked due to the impending end of transitional controls within the EU).

    It appears that the voters (of previously varying party allegiances) are leading Cameron to change his positioning on these issues, not simply unreconstructed Tory backbenchers as you suggest. This seems to be consistent with the polling evidence on both the salience and the substance of these specific issues.

    I’m emphatically not arguing that political parties should simply dance to the tune of shifting public opinion – but nor can they afford to be on the wrong side of it on too many major issues if they expect to build the kind of coalition of support necessary to win a general election.

    At any rate the Lib Dem critique Cameron’s current strategy (too anti-EU, anti-immigration and harsh on welfare) is not the same as the verdict of the wider public (discontent with the state of the economy and in particular the high cost of living, petrol prices, energy prices and ‘green taxes’, the EU, immigration, the housing shortage, and approval of a tough line on welfare).

    These attitudes may have been hardened by the recession; clearly it’s not 2006 and the context was very different in the early days of Cameron’s leadership. But in some cases – like the EU, or dissatisfaction with the political class – they are merely an evolution of views expressed over many years now not just by right-leaning voters but by many traditional Labour voters.

    2. If the Lib Dems believe they can now make common cause with Labour against the Tory ‘enemy’ while remaining in the coalition government for another 2+ years, firstly the government is going to become ever more incoherent and dysfunctional (which is unlikely to impress voters of any persuasion) and secondly the public is going to get mightily confused at the chasm that will open up between officially supportive statements of government policy and tacit support for the opposition’s stance.

    And if coalition unity on the central economic strategy breaks down, market credibility in the UK – which was presented as the raisin d’être of the coalition and it’s core achievement – could very quickly dissolve leading to an otherwise avoidable bond market or currency crisis. The loss of the triple A credit rating might not be too damaging economically, but investor panic (or even a steady rise in bond yields) certainly would be.

  • Alex Sabine 1st Mar '13 - 3:49am

    Arrgggh! I must find out how to turn off the iPad’s ‘auto-correct’ function… Obviously there shouldn’t be a ‘grocer’s apostrophe’ in my post above (‘it’s core achievement’).

  • Peter Chegwyn 1st Mar '13 - 4:47am

    An excellent victory for a fantastic team of local councillors ably led by Keith House, and for the hundreds of people from across the land who helped in the campaign.

    This was an election won on the ground with the postal votes drive proving especially important.

    A delight to see the Tory ‘Nasty’ Party seen off in style.

    And let’s not forget all the work of Chris Rennard over many years which has helped make by-election victories like this possible. Personally I very much hope the party inquiries clear him of any wrong-doing. We should not believe all that’s been said about him in the right-wing Tory press over the past week.

    In short, Eastleigh has provided a very welcome and much-needed morale booster for us all.

    Now let’s enjoy the Tory Party blood-letting over the next few days!

  • Peter Chegwyn 1st Mar '13 - 5:53am

    I see the defeated Tory candidate isn’t giving any post-result interviews.

    I wonder why?

  • Hooray! Is about all I have the energy to say right now :)

  • Great result to win the seat but a 14% drop in vote share is still a huge worry. I have a feeling the choice of UKIP candidate helped them as I believe they would not have done so well if Nigel Farage had stood.
    Expect the Tories to knee jerk now, they will get ultra right wing on Europe and immigration and their ugly extreme right faction will force the party to the right generally and then can we , should we keep them in government?
    I see the coalition becoming very challenging and possibly unsustainable.

  • Well done.

    However, you lost a third of your share of the vote. UKIP and the awful Tory candidate won it for you. The rise of the new BNP should send a shiver down the spine of all liberals.

  • Woo hoo! After all the kickings in the Tory/Labour press of late: brilliant!

    UKIP depressing, though. Someone needs to shine a light on who they are and what they really stand for.

  • But surely sensible Tories would see that an old school right winger failed dismally – bit like the Republicans losing safe seats when the tea party candidates got selected… or is the argument that the tory wasn’t right wing enough ?

  • Cameron’s referendum promise has worked well hasn’t it? The Tories are already trying to get credit for immigration falling while as any fool knows, immigration is down due to our dire economy. Hopefully this result will weaken Cameron and Miliband, who has made Labour irrelevant with his lack of a position on anything.

  • Peter Watson 1st Mar '13 - 7:43am

    @Stephen “As for Labour, where were they? (And frankly who cares?) They’ll take no pleasure in finishing a poor fourth. But they’ve no need to panic either. This was not their by-election and they knew it. They can win a general election without winning seats like Eastleigh.”
    You are right – Labour were third in Eastleigh in 1997 and have no need to be winning this sort of seat. But I think that Lib Dems should care about the Labour vote. Lib Dem share was the lowest since this was a safe tory seat in the 80s, and the combined UKIP and conservative vote was in that sort of territory if the UKIP protest vote goes back to tories. Lib Dems should hope that the Labour vote was reduced by anti-coalition votes being lent to UKIP but returning to Labour in 2015.

  • A “good ” result for the Liberal Democrats.but by no means excellent.

    Now if only the party uses this opportunity “constructively” to start clearing a distinguished path between themselves and the coalition government and readying themselves for the next election.

    The electorate have clearly given the Conservatives a kicking and this is going to cause all sorts of problems for Cameron and Osborne.

    UKIP managed to take votes from all the other main political parties, so I think it is fair to say that they will now be seen as the protest vote and disgruntled.

    Labour were never going to win Eastleigh, it is not one of their target seats. I think the Labour were sitting pretty on this election,whatever the outcome. Labour does not need to win Eastleigh to win the next election, so I think it would be silly for people to spin otherwise.
    One thing is becoming more clearer though, The Tories are in the most trouble at the moment and stand no chance of winning the next election “or” if they called an early one. Which should make Liberal Democrats exercise this strength and stop feeling the need to bow to every Tory pressure to vote for policies that deep down the party does not agree with.
    Libdems need to start building on their creditability and showing the public that they can and will.

    Apart from that well done to Libdems ;-)

  • Kevin Colwill 1st Mar '13 - 8:09am

    Would I have voted Lib Dem in Eastleigh? … probably not. I didn’t think the Lib Dems would hold, I didn’t want a smug Nick Clegg claiming he was on the right course and didn’t see any real difference between a Lib Dem and a Tory victory.

    Today I find myself grudgingly pleased the Lib Dems held. A UKIP win would have been far worse.

    Well done Nick Clegg. I might have to vote Lib Dem next time because I’m now officially sh*t scared of the alternative.

  • Congratulations to Mike Thornton. I thought parts od the press has been pretty ‘feral’ with the Lib Dems this last week – good on the voters of Eastleight for ignoring and focusing on the best candidate for them locally.

    Stephen, once again you have written a very balanced article – though I absolutely agree with Peter Watson’s comments above about the Labour vote.

    This should in no way detract the Party from putting it’s own house in order.

  • And well done to all the activists who worked so hard in Eastleight ! :)

  • Tony Dawson 1st Mar '13 - 8:24am

    “what has been immensely encouraging has also been the clear evidence Lib Dem activists remain keenly motivated.”

    is missing just one word: “SOME, remaining” Lib Dem activists. Those who have completely disappeared are still a great loss.

    If we drew a graph , a month ago, of those Lib Dem parliamentary seats where we might have survived a by-election, Eastleigh would have been in the top half of the top half dozen. This election was won NOT because of any great endorsement of national Lib Dem policies (though, to be fair, antipathy to them was held in check a little bit by our good campaign). It was held because the growing right wing vote was totally split in two and the solid rump of people in Eastleigh who have been served well by their magnificent Lib Dem council group, of whom Mike Thornton was one, held firm, despite all the national mudslinging and was just big enough to scrape through.

  • Peter Hutton 1st Mar '13 - 8:24am

    Interesting that the Daily Telegraph (especially judging by the comments from the Trolls under the bridge) is emerging as the media voice for UKIP. On-going this could be get interesting. If the Mail swings for Farage then game on for the heart and soul of the Right.

  • Peter Hutton 1st Mar '13 - 8:25am

    Oh yes, and obviosuly I second the comment about ” well done to all the activists who worked so hard in Eastleight !” A good night.

  • Excellent points by Matt, LD can show some muscle now as the Conservatives are not in any position to fight or win an election. Its timely given a Budget and Spending Review coming up. On the other hand, I think the ugly Tory tendencies will resurface and it showed in Eastleigh, where the UKIP candidate appeared more trustworthy and savvy than her Tory peer.

    One thing I’ve noticed in media coverage is that its frequently mentioned that Government’s rarely win by-elections as defence for Tories. On face value, probably not, but it begs the question of why Libdems are not percieved as part of the Government via a coalition despite their best efforts and valuable input. Shallow point, I know

    Good article Stephen, Labour’s test will come in urban seats in major cities.

  • “If this is repeated, but with the Conservatives managing to capture the Kipper vote, whilst the Lib Dems drop by 14.5%, then the LDs will fall to 35.”

    Difficult to see where on earth this comes from. If the Lib Dems dropped by 14.5% with the votes going to Labour and the Tories were unchanged, unifom swing would give them 13 seats. If the votes went to the Tories and Labour was unchanged, it would be 6 seats.

    Not that any of that is at all realistic for several reasons, but it’s very difficult to see where the figure of 35 comes from.

  • David Blake 1st Mar '13 - 8:58am
  • Excellent win for us overall. However, I still think the media are whipping up a storm in a teacup to some extent with UKIP.

    UKIP are far from being a national party. In the 2010 election in Scotland, for instance, they only managed a miniscule 0.7% of the vote, and only 2.7% in Wales. Even at its previous high point, the 2009 European Elections, they only managed just over 5% of the vote in Scotland – not even enough to get an MEP. As for the Scottish Elections in 2011 – well, they just didn’t seriously try.

    Until they can show that they can win in all parts of the UK, and not just England (particularly the South) then they’re not going to be able to do anything in a General Election.

  • I agree with Keith. I don’t think this is of any more significance to the next general election than George Galloway’s win in Bradford West. Probably of much less significance, because Galloway got 56% of the vote, whereas UKIP only scraped into second place with half that.

    Equally, it doesn’t tell us much about Lib Dem prospects either, because that depends on where the votes cast for UKIP yesterday would have gone in a general election. The Lib Dem vote didn’t collapse to the extent suggested by most opinion polls, but on the other hand in percentage terms it was down by nearly a third, and in numerical terms it wasn’t far above half of the 2010 vote. On the other hand, maybe without the UKIP surge the Lib Dems would also have done better. On the third hand, their performance was similar to what the constituency polls were suggesting earlier in the campaign before the main UKIP surge. Who knows?

  • Some perspectives from someone who was on the ground in Eastleigh on Wednesday.

    1) Many, many of our voters (soft Lib Dems i.e. a large proportion of our vote) have gone to “Don’t know” and “won’t vote”.
    2) Those who are willing to even listen (admittedly on a very cold, windy day when people are difficult to hold on the doorstep for more than a couple of seconds) were standing there, arms folded, with a look of hardened disbelief and cynicism.
    3) A few will listen. Labour voters will still lend us their vote where it is a straight fight of LDs versus the right, particularly the hard right; Squeeze messages do still work.
    4) Some people will come round if we give them clear explanations. I talked to a guy who said he “didn’t like what you’d done on school fees”, by which he obviously meant tuition fees. I explained that we only had one eleventh of the MPs and if the other ten didn’t agree with us, we couldn’t force them to vote for our policy. Also that the new system worked as a graduate tax, with those who earned more paying more. Finally, it was a tough call and money was tight and whatever we did it would have had to have been paid for by taxpayers. On that basis and the fact Mike Thornton was a good, local candidate, he said he would vote LD. If you put the facts in front of them, rather than the constant stream of hostile media coverage, some people will come round, but it is a very tough fight.

    It is going to be a long slog to 2015 and we only won in Eastleigh because of incredibly good groundwork preparation. We are going to need to replicate this technique all around the country, starting now, if we are going to retain most/many of our MPs.

    In Eastleigh, yet again, where we campaigned, we won – but only just.

  • @RC
    “Also that the new system worked as a graduate tax, with those who earned more paying more.”

    Er, it’s nothing like a graduate tax. High earning graduates end up paying a far lower percentage of their earnings. How do you think he’s going to vote when someone explains to him that it’s not a graduate tax in any way, shape or form?

  • Congratulations.
    Devastating result for the Conservatives , proof positive that they can’t get the working class/blue-collar vote and are doomed in 2015.
    Poor result for Labour, But a better candidate may have chipped at the lib Dem vote, still left them in 4Th place and given UKIP their first MP.
    UKIP, got close but it was just about the best chance they had and their vote in a general election will drop off.

    The Tory clam that this is to be expected with a mid term government makes no sense, because the Lib Dems are also in government with them., plus are often the most visible spokesman for government policy. Fact is they couldn’t take a seat from the Lib Dems even under very difficult circumstances for Mr Clegg.

  • David Pollard 1st Mar '13 - 10:44am

    The party campaigning machine responded to the challenge as of old. Bring on the next by-election.

  • @ Steve

    “Er, it’s nothing like a graduate tax.”

    Er, yes it is.
    1) Only graduates pay it;
    2) It’s based on ability to pay;
    3) Higher earners pay more than lower earners;
    4) Doesn’t count as debt in terms of credit ratings.

    What is the supposed difference between that and a graduate tax, that people would * actually * notice?

  • @ David Pollard
    “Bring on the next by-election.”

    Really, no thanks to that one.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Mar '13 - 10:47am

    Congratulations to the Lib Dems for winning at Eastleigh. Well done! I bet you’re really glad that you didn’t triumph in the AV referendum now aren’t you? Under AV the Tory/UKIP second choices would have almost certainly have been reciprocal and the Lib-Dems would have been forced into second place behind the UKIP Pied Piper which, if unchecked, will eventually lead us all into the mountain! Makes me glad I voted against AV. The Labour vote held up, even increased by a smidgeon. The Liberal Democrat and Tory vote dropped like a stone. That Suggests that after the next election there won’t be a hung parliament and Labour would have a substantial majority.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '13 - 10:58am

    Stephen – a very fair analysis.

    If Eastleigh’s Keith House were cloned and we had a Keith House to campaign and maintain every held seat then we wouldn’t have much to worry about in 2015! The Lib Dems have got yet another white, middle-aged, middle class male elected to parliament albeit a very nice white, middle-aged, middle class male.

    Can’t agree with you about the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. At least with the Daily Mail you know what you are going to get when it comes to attitudes to women (tittle tattle about celebs with anorexia etc etc). The Lib Dems have always waxed sanctimonious about equalities so if we are found wanting ikt adds a great fat dollop of hypocrisy into the equation.

  • ” It’s based on ability to pay;”
    “What is the supposed difference between that and a graduate tax, that people would * actually * notice?”

    Perhaps that someone earning 100k a year ends up paying a third of the tax rate (over the total of the repayment period) of someone earning 35k to 40k a year. It’s therefore clearly not based on the ability to pay. A graduate tax would at least be proportional, but tuition fees levy a decreasing tax rate with increased earnings (above 35-40k a year). A graduate tax is quite substantially different to tuition fees. If you want a graduate tax, argue for a replacement graduate tax, don’t argue that the new system is something it isn’t.

  • Congratulations all round

    Not wishing to demean the effort here but this was not really a test of our abilities: it was probably our easiest marginal to retain with all the councillors and party machinery on the ground. It was also within an hour or so of London and so could count on lots of support.

    In Mike we have a good strong local MP – not it appears high flying ministerial material but good solid backbench ‘yeoman stock’ as it were. I realise that that sounds very patronising but I dont mean it that way; the work of the backbenchers in scrutinising legislation and the executive is very important for the country and the party.

    Some issues we need to address:
    We have been found wanting on the issue of sexual equality – we must look into the issues with Rennard – very serious allegations have been made, and they should have been addressed better by the party at the time.

    We have been found wanting on the issue of consistency of message – Clegg appeared to say one thing one day, another thing the next day and something completely contradictory the next. Farron said something else entirely. We need to have all the people giving the same message.

    The agenda seemed to be being dictated by the press – it seemed the party was releasing little by little to answer new allegations. We should have been upfront from the start.

    Where are the women? Talking to friends the other day (professionals not political hacks) no one could name a woman Lib Dem beyond Shirley Williams or Sarah Teather (and only her becuase my friend had been at university with her). By contrast people could name Kennedy, Ashdown, Highes, Clegg and even Farron and 3 or 4 prominent women in the other two parties. We need to address this issue desperately.

    How can we make a case for Europe when so much of the press and other parties is anti? The strong UKIP support here is a ‘plague on all your houses’ type response but the underlying issues of Europe need to be addressed. We need to get out there and say what the EU has done for us – make a case for it, not just shrug our shoulders and hope it will go away. Point out the benefits we have gained from migration – people moving to this country to work, our people moving to other EU nations to work. We need to highlight the tax (in the form of VAT as well as income tax/NI) that everyone pays – immigrants are not just a drain on the welfare state!

  • David Allen 1st Mar '13 - 11:29am

    Well – a victory on 32% of the vote, courtesy of an even split in the right-of-centre vote between two candidates. A good enough result to prove that British voters want and need an effective Liberal Democrat Party. Not a good enough result to show that voters believe such a party actually exists – other than at local pavement politics level.

    Of course, localism has always been a strength – but in this contest, it has had to bear an excessive share of the burden. Mike Thornton joins a long list of good local candidates who have attracted support as individuals in a byelection. The party as a whole cannot rely on that support being repeated at a General Election, when the voters have to choose a government.

    I was chatting recently to a keen local activist, who explained that it was local issues which were enabling his local party to rebuild after a tough time. What issues, I enquired. “Feral cats!” he said. Well, good for him, but in two years time, we will need something other than feral cats to base our GE campaign upon!

  • Peter Watson 1st Mar '13 - 11:34am

    @RC “What is the supposed difference between that and a graduate tax, that people would * actually * notice?”
    Probably the fact that it’s not a tax, it is not called a tax, and it is repayment of a loan.

  • “What is the supposed difference between that and a graduate tax, that people would * actually * notice?”

    The difference is that legally it is a loan, and the terms of repayment could be unilaterally changed at any time.

    Currently the loan will be written off after 30 years. How hard would a future government in time of crisis find it to justify not writing off the debt after 30 years? When discussing the Mansion Tax, Nick Clegg made an off-the-cuff remark about deferring payments, and charging them to people’s estates after their deaths. If a future government decided to do that with student loans, there isn’t a blind thing anyone could do about it.

  • Several weeks ago, Lib Dems thought that their main adversary in Eastleigh was the Conservatives. And, foolishly, so did the Conservatives!.
    Is UKIP a protest, or a tectonic shift?
    We will probably have to wait until the May elections to find that out. But of one thing I am sure. David Cameron will not fight the 2015 election. The Tories that sit in the committee shadows want the keys of No.10 in 2015. Two things:
    1. They cannot get those keys with Cameron as leader.
    2. They cannot get those keys, unless they absorb some of the UKIP policy.
    So I leave it to you. What do you think the most ruthless party in history will do as this threat finally sinks in, and they see the keys to No. 10 out of reach.?
    Savour this small victory by all means, but are you are missing the bigger picture.?

  • paul barker 1st Mar '13 - 11:49am

    A huge thank-you to everyone who worked for this result. The significance for the General Election is zero, unless the result itself leads some major players to change their behaviour.
    After throwing everything at us & failing again will The Media go back to just pretending we dont exist ?
    Will some Tories be stupid enough to try to bring down Cameron ?
    For now its enough not to have Farage looking even more smug than usual.

  • Surely the result shows that after an atomic war all that will be left will be cockroaches and Lib Dem campaigners, who are virtually indestructible. Well done all!

  • @RC “What is the supposed difference between that and a graduate tax, that people would * actually * notice?”

    What is the supposed difference between a cow and a horse that people would *actually notice*. They’ve both got four legs, so what’s all the fuss about? A horse is just a cow by another name.

  • Simon – agree with everything you say but slightly concerned at “We need to have all the people giving the same message”. It reminds me of New Labour’s “on message” imperative. I have found it very refreshing to hear party leaders admitting that ‘we have screwed up’. Of course the best thing is to tell the truth, the whole truth and get everything out right at the start – that was a big mistake.

    The other thing I have found alarming is the suggestion that the women were not taken seriously because many high-ups in the Party owe their jobs to the former CEO. This smacks of ‘vested interests’ – something the Party boasts iof being against.

  • @ Peter Watson

    “Probably the fact that it’s not a tax, it is not called a tax, and it is repayment of a loan.”

    And that makes a difference how, exactly? You haven’t answered my question. Your replies are just about terminology rather than financial impact. I stand by what I said earlier.

    @ Chris
    “The difference is that legally it is a loan, and the terms of repayment could be unilaterally changed at any time”

    As the income tax rate could be changed at any future date, which is the only likely alternative source of funds for university, in the absence of the left’s magic money tree.

    Really yours is a non-point.

  • @RC
    “I stand by what I said earlier.”

    You can stand by it, but that doesn’t make it true. Higher earners pay back less because the interest repayments are lower and, more importantly, they pay less as a proportion of their income – i.e. tuition fees are fiscally regressive (above 35-40k). So, the tax rate is lower for those that can most afford it. The less able you are to pay the more you pay as a proportion of your income over the repayment period.

  • @RC
    My original point was that it is not a good thing to go to somebody’s doorstep and argue that fees are in fact a graduate tax. The fact that this discussion is turning from a congratulatory thread about Eastleigh to another discussion on fees underlines my original point.

  • Peter Chegwyn 1st Mar '13 - 2:40pm

    Geoff – There WAS a pro Lib Dem vote, overwhelmingly on local issues.

    It was nearly scuppered by the way our national leaders made a complete hash of handling what started as a relatively minor news story but which was given ‘legs’ by the constantly changing positions of our own spokesmen, much to the delight of the right-wing Tory press.

    We should be grateful that thousands of postal votes had already been cast.

  • “… what started as a relatively minor news story …”

    Probably not to the people concerned. But still …

  • nvelope2003 1st Mar '13 - 3:44pm

    The latest Lord Ashcroft survey seems to show that many of those who voted UKIP would vote Conservative at a General election to the extent that they would win the Eastleigh constituency but of course some former Liberal Democrat voters might also come back.

    Most of those supporting UKIP who were interviewed on the local BBC South News seemed to be people who did not like the way the country and the Conservative party had changed. They appeared to be mostly older lower middle class people though there was one articulate young man who shared their views but he did not seem to be old enough to know what the country was like 20 years ago.

    Perhaps David Cameron is playing a long game. Maybe he sees the UKIP inclined Conservatives, for example the 175 MPs who voted against gay marriage, breaking away eventually so that the more centrist/liberal ones can form an Alliance with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. This could explain his resolute support for issues like gay marriage and foreign aid which will lay down a clear line between the two factions in the Conservative party.

  • Peter Chegwyn 1st Mar '13 - 3:51pm

    “… what started as a relatively minor news story …”
    Probably not to the people concerned. But still …

    Fair point Chris.

    I hope the inquiries now planned allow all parties including Chris Rennard to present their case… Chris has emphatically denied any wrong-doing and should not be pre-judged thanks to potentially inaccurate reports in the right-wing Tory media.

    We owe it to all sides to establish the truth… and the truth may be very different to what The Telegraph, Mail and even Channel 4 report.

  • I think yesterday’s result has certainly strengthened UKIP’s position at the next General Election.
    Managing to attract so many voters away from the main three political parties will be very encouraging to any potential donors/funding who will no longer see it as throwing money away at a dead horse.
    If UKIP managed to eat away at both coalition parties share of the vote in the way in which they did, with limited sponsors/donors, imagine what they would achieve if they were able to attract some serious big sponsors.

    I think it would foolish to discredit UKIP as just a “mid terms blue” protest vote. With the right backing and funding they have the potential to deny the Tories the keys to number 10 as a Majority Government a well as reducing the chances of Liberal Democrats being in a position to have enough MP’s to make up the numbers for another coalition government.

    Farage is the only one to come out from this election who is able to have a genuine smile a sense of victory

  • “Chris has emphatically denied any wrong-doing and should not be pre-judged thanks to potentially inaccurate reports in the right-wing Tory media.”

    Yes, but saying that the allegations should be properly investigated rather than being prejudged is very different from saying it is a “relatively minor” matter. In fact I thought most people agreed that they were serious allegations.

  • Sid Cumberland 1st Mar '13 - 5:01pm

    There is a difference between a ‘relatively minor news story’ and a ‘relatively minor matter'; in the latter case, the allegations may not be all that serious. In the former, they may be serious, but not be the biggest part of the picture as far as the national news is concerned. Peter Chegwyn did NOT say it was a minor matter.

  • Steve Comer 1st Mar '13 - 5:07pm

    I agree with Peter Chegwyn, the Rennard story was NOT well handled by the party leadership. The Leader and the Party President should have had a brief discussion, set up the enquiry, and agreed a statement for the press. The ‘drip drip’ of slightly differing stories did not help. Fortunately Eastleigh voters seemed more interested in who would represent their interests in Westminster than the tittle tattle emanating form that village. The fact that over a third of the vote was cast by post was probably a big help for us as well, I expect Eastleigh Lib Dems have that well organised. Farage reckoned UKIP won it at the Polling stations yesterday, and he could be right.

    I expect Labour and the Lib Dems to follow the past policy of appeasement of the anti Europeans with offers of referendums, vetos etc. . But as we have seen before that only works for a short time. Better to organise our thoughts and defeat their arguments. UKIP in Eastleigh were sayiong “4 million Bulgarians” were poised to come to the UK. A ridiculous claim, when only 7.4 million of them live in Bulgaria!

    BTW I don’t normally believe in stereotypes in politics, but in Wednesday while delivering in West End, a white van pulled up and the occupant went into a detached house with big UKIP posters on it. When I walked to the next house I saw a second white van on the drive. Presumably there is a Mosaic category for ‘2 white van household’ that ID as UKIP?

  • @Phyllis “The other thing I have found alarming is the suggestion that the women were not taken seriously because many high-ups in the Party owe their jobs to the former CEO.”

    I agree, If true that would indeed be disturbing – but that’s an allegation I find very hard to believe. Not because of some naive faith in the unshakeable integrity of all our senior people (even Lib Dems probably sometimes have their careers in the backs of their minds :) ). But rather because from the labyrinthine mechanics of LD candidate selection and other career progression avenues, it seems completely implausible that any individual, however senior or powerful, could pluck some personal favourite from obscurity and propel them to the top. That may work for a film director who has sole power over casting decisions, or even in the Conservatives with their “A-list”, but in the Lib Dems? Colour me unconvinced…

    On topic, as heartening as yesterday’s victories were (and I think the Kingston Berrylands hold was just as significant as the Eastleigh one), it’s good to see a healthy dose of realism about what this means for 2015. Fighting 57 byelection campaigns simultaneously will be a big ask. But one of the most heartening things hasn’t been the actual result but rather the sheer resilience of the campaigners. I was reading ConHome this morning (in a shameful bout of shadenfreude) and found an amusing version of an old addage: “In the even of a nuclear disaster, the only lifeforms remaining will be cockroaches and Lib Dem activists delivering Focus leaflets attacking the cockroaches for not being local enough.” :)

  • “Peter Chegwyn did NOT say it was a minor matter.”

    ?

    Surely if it’s a relatively minor story that implies that what’s being reported is a relatively minor matter? In any case, I was careful to indicate by the use of quotation marks which of Peter Chegwyn’s words I was reproducing and which I wasn’t, so I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make.

  • paul barker 1st Mar '13 - 8:17pm

    Eastleigh saw a big anti-government vote, 14% off both coalition parties, just what you would expect in mid-term. Nearly all those protest votes went to UKIP because they were obviously the most credible of the fringe groups & because the Media gave them a massive “bigging-up”. Come 2015 UKIP will probably get a substantial increase in their vote, I wouldnt rule out a massive increase, lets say 70%. That would take them to a stonking 5% of the national vote & get them no MPs.
    Theres really no need for the Tories to panic but they do seem to be panicking. For the first time I am starting to wonder if the Conservatives can make it all the way to 2015. Perhaps we ought to give some thought as to our strategy if The Tories pull out of coalition or make themselves impossible to work with.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Mar '13 - 10:02pm

    @Dave Page
    “I’d disagree with Mack’s assertion that the people who vote UKIP are natural Tories and so AV would have led to a Tory victory.”

    Actually, Dave, in the interests of accuracy, I suggested that under AV Eastleigh would probably have gone to UKIP. Particularly if one assumes the Tories and UKIP to be the combined Europhobe vote. Which, of course, is why the Tories are so desolate that it has been split.. Hence my assumptions about the Tory second preferences.

  • Agree 100% with Stephen Tall’s last two paragraphs.
    I wish all Liberal Democrats would STOP blaming the media, and STOP minimising the allegations.
    That plainly isn’t happening, either on twitter or on the mainstream media tonight.

  • Helen Flynn 2nd Mar '13 - 8:26am

    I’m amazed this article makes no mention of the one thing without which we would not have won. A strong local candidate with credibility and a record of achievement. That s all most people want and they are not daft and fooled by the media. This was the right result because the worthiest candidate won!

  • Simon Banks 2nd Mar '13 - 1:07pm

    It’s a good result for us, considering the circumstances of the vacancy, the potentially damaging allegations concerning the handling of the Chris Rennard issues, Nick Clegg’s uncertain handling of questions on that and our current poll ratings – though it confirms what I and many have been saying, that when the chips are down in a Liberal Democrat target seat, national polls pre-election can meen zilch.

    It’s a very bad result for the Tories and bad for Labour (not very bad because it’s true they could still win by winning the Corbys however badly they did in the Eastleighs).

    It’s a very good result for UKIP and the media reaction has predictably been more about that than our victory. We need to stop treating UKIP as a useful distraction for the Tories and think hard about how to defeat them where they could win. Moving towards them is not necessarily the way, even if we were prepared to do it: the Tory candidate in Eastleigh said some things that sounded very UKIP, and if the Tories respond by getting more UKIP-like they’ll have more candidates like her, but she lost moderate floaters without gaining potential UKIP voters.

  • I woulkd like to see the stats measuring the degree of success we had in getting the Lib Dem vote out.

    While (refreshingly) the media feeding frenzy on the Rennard allegations on top of the Huhne disgrace did not kill off the Lib Dem vote it would be ridiculous to argue that this factor had a nil effect. Clearly that – and indeed the anti-coalition factor – did not push votes towards Labour but there has been too easy an assumption that the votes hoovered up by UKIP came almost equally from former Conservative and Lib Dem voters. I would judge that a much greater proportion of Lib Dems simply abstained and that the bulk of the UKIP vote came from disgruntled Conservatives. This says to me that there is everything to play for in getting these missing voters back into our camp. If, as should now happen, the media modify their portrayal of Nick Clegg as hapless and ineffective, that will at least be a start.

    Another point – Lib Dems must fight the Euro elections on an unashamedly pro-EU manifesto- while acknowledging the need for reforms . The continued rise of UKIP and mounting europhobia in the Tory Party must leave pro-Europeans seeking a champion. They may be a minority but a very chunky minority. We must be their champion.

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd Mar '13 - 1:55pm

    I echo Simon Banks’ comments about the need to take on UKIP. Their racist, anti-immigration message in Eastleigh was not dissimilar to the foul messages peddled by the BNP. The difference is that many people who would never vote for the BNP will vote for UKIP as they appear more ‘acceptable’.

    Party activists might care to look at the campaign in the Speaker’s Buckingham constituency in the 2010 General Election where an Independent, John Stevens, took on Nigel Farage and, with no organisation on the ground whatsoever, polled over 10,000 votes to finish 2nd, giving John Bercow a good run for his money and pushing Nigel Farage into a poor 3rd place.

    As with the BNP in some areas in recent years, we need to take the UKIP threat more seriously in by-elections and local elections from now on.

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd Mar '13 - 1:58pm

    As a P.S. to Denis, I certainly found Lib Dems voting for UKIP in Eastleigh.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Mar '13 - 3:24pm

    UKIP seems to address issues that other parties sweep under a table, but which voters feel are important.

    It seems obvious to many voters that having large numbers of poor new Romanian migrants competing for work here is not going to be good for recession-hit natives. The migrants will either win the work or cost the natives in other ways.

    If that’s wrong, then political parties need to explain why it’s wrong, in ways that convince an electorate, not duck the issue.

    Generally, LibDems and others need to address these kinds of issues in ways that are practical, understandable, communicable, common sense, and not dominated by dogma, however attractive dogma may seem to be.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Mar '13 - 3:25pm

    I have just received an email letter from a gentleman who says , on the one hand……

    “Keith House, the leader of Eastleigh council, and his team have done an amazing job over the last ten years, building support from local people by listening and delivering. Protecting green spaces. Cutting council tax. Investing to create jobs. Ask anyone who was out on the doorsteps in Eastleigh and they’ll tell you: it’s a winning message.”

    . . . .which is totally true.

    However, the same gentleman spoils his message by adding (talking about national Lib Dem performance) :

    We didn’t win in Eastleigh “in spite” of our record. We won because of our record.

    What delusion. Some people will never learn.

  • Peter Chegwyn says – “As a P.S. to Denis, I certainly found Lib Dems voting for UKIP in Eastleigh.”

    Of course. I am merely questioning any tendency to assume that UKIP are as much an attraction to Lib Dem voters as to Conservative voters just because the erosion of Lib Dem and Conservative votes in Eastleigh since 2010 was broadly similar. No doubt there will be close study of the stats to establish what really happened. My anxiety is that some Lib Dems will start to argue that we should trim our sails towards the UKIP siren-song. That way lies disaster. We must fight them on all fronts.

  • @ Denis
    From Michael Ashcroft’s polling I think 22% of UKIP voters in the by election had voted Conservative in 2010, while 19% had voted Lib Dem in 2010 and 17% had voted Labourin 2010.

    So while UKIP took slightly more votes from the Tories, they took nearly as many from us & Labour. However, I would argue that the voters they took from us are more likely to be protest votes from people who used to choose us as the none-of-the-above option but have found a new home now that we’re in government. Whereas the former Conservatives who went to UKIP are more likely to be from the disaffected right of the party who are genuinely attracted by UKIP’s policy offerings.

    So I completely agree that we shouldn’t try winning them back by tacking towards UKIP’s policy platform, not only because that would be a fundamental betrayal of what we stand for, but also because it’s unlikely to work – protest voters aren’t looking for a set of policies so much as a generic way to kick the establishment up the backside.

  • It does appear that UKIP took nearly as many former Lib Dem votes as former Tory votes in Eastleigh. The question is how those who supported UKIP will vote in 2015. My guess would be that most of the former Tories will return to the Tories, but I’m more doubtful about how many former Lib Dems will return “home”. That’s why it would be dangerous to assume on the basis of Eastleigh that the Lib Dems will be successful in defending seats against the Tories in 2015. That depends on a very big assumption.

  • I think we were lucky to be honest – won on postal votes before Nick’s less than impressive response to Rennardgate.

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