Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (13 Feb)

Here’s a round-up of news from the past 24 hours in the Eastleigh by-election…

Mike Thornton’s campaign in full swing

mike thornton david chidgeyThe Lib Dems’ Mike Thornton — pictured here (by Jon Aylwin) with 1994 by-election victor David Chidgey — has been focusing on how the pupil premium, the party’s flagship education policy, has been helping Eastleigh schools:

Lib Dems boost Pupil Premium (Southern Daily Echo)
The policy introduced by the Liberal Democrats has invested £1.7m in Eastleigh schools, and is aimed at ensuring every child has a fair start in life.

Just one of the reasons why volunteer help has been pouring in to help Mike retain the seats for the Lib Dems:

And why Mike’s campaign saw another three Lib Dem MPs doing their bit as well today:

Labour opts for comedy campaign

The Labour party has chosen its man, satirist John O’Farrell. It’s a choice that’s gone down well with the Twitterati and The Guardian. What Eastleigh residents will make of his parachute jump into their area is another matter:

Tories party like it’s 2001

The return of the nasty party? asks Channel 4′s Michael Crick, highlighting Tory candidate Maria Hutchings’ distinctly un-Cameronesque email to Tory activists focused on cutting welfare, cutting immigration and cutting loose from Europe. As Crick points out:

Note how much Hutchings’ stresses traditional right-wing issues such as immigration, Europe and welfare, as she tries to distinguish the Tories from their coalition partners. And of course these are also the issues which UKIP has been pursuing relentlessly in recent months, with considerable success. There’s not a hint of David Cameron’s attempts since 2005 to modernise and “detoxify” his party.

And speaking of Ukip, its candidate has been forced to apologise for her inflammatory accusation that future Romanian immigrants are a crime wave waiting to happen:

UKIP candidate Diane James says sorry over Romanian ‘crime’ slur (The Times £)
Diane James, a borough councillor from Surrey who only joined the party in 2010, has called for a freeze on all immigration. Launching her campaign this morning, she argued that there was a problem with “the crime associated with Romanians” and suggested that areas with large numbers of Romanian immigrants have high crime rates.

The Romanian ambassador to the UK was, perhaps unsurprisingly, none too impressed.

And speaking of minor parties, the Greens will be sitting Eastleigh out:

No Green candidate for Eastleigh by-election Southern Daily Echo)
THE Green Party has decided not to put forward a candidate for the by-election. A spokeswoman confirmed a Green Party representative will not be added to the candidates list.

Lib Dems taking on the Tories…

A few journalists — presumably those who’ve never heard of Scotland and Wales — have asked how the parties which govern together can possible fight each other.

The Lib Dem campaign is showing exactly how:

thornton children centres

Mike Thornton and the Eastleigh Lib Dem team are standing up for our town’s children’s centres, working to reverse brutal £3million Conservative cuts. Local Conservatives promised local people that there would be no front-line cuts to our centres. Now the truth is hitting home, with opening hours slashed and staff redundancies.

(Though as Isabel Hardman notes here in the Spectator both Lib Dems and Tories are glossing over where they agree nationally in favour of some full-throated local differentiation on where to build desperately needed new housing.)

… And to Labour

eastleigh bar chart
Lib Dem by-election devotees will be delighted to see the trusty bar-chart is in prominent place.

It clearly shows that Eastleigh is a two-horse race between the Lib Dems and Tories, with Labour well out of it.

Perhaps John O’Farrell will feel inclined to take his own advice, as highlighted by Mark Pack (and then nicked by the Telegraph without credit), and advise Labour voters who don’t want to see a Tory elected to Eastleigh to back the Lib Dems?

And finally:

Want to join the hundreds of Lib Dems who are doing their bit to help get Mike elected as the next Lib Dem MP for Eastleigh on 28th February? Here’s a reminder of how YOU can make a difference:

  • Volunteer to help in Eastleigh itself
  • Make phone calls for the party if you can’t get there in person
  • Give a donation to help fund the campaign.
  • And a particular shout out to all Liberal Youth members:

    For the hundreds who’ve already helped, the party’s recorded this Thank You video — so play us out, guys

    * 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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    12 Comments

    • I think one of my favourite twitter moments of this campaign so far was when John O’Farrell (Lab Candidate) put out a tweet asking if there was anyone who would like to join him on the ‘Labour Doorstep’ in Eastleigh.

      ‘I’d rather shit in my hands and clap’ came one reply.

      ‘I’ll put you down as a maybe’ replied John O’Farrell.

      Comedy campaign indeed :)

    • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '13 - 10:46am

      We keep being assaulted in the press and general commentary with the line that being in the coalition means we are in full support of Tory policy. We MUST get across to the electorate that the coalition results from what THEY voted for in 2010. They gave us a Parliament in which the only stable government that could have been formed was the one we have now. Thanks to the electoral system which THEY gave support to in the 2011 referendum, two-to-one in favour, that coalition is massively biased towards the Conservative Party, which has five times as many MPs as us even though they only got half as many votes again as us. We support the coalition because we are democrats, we accept what the people of Britain voted for in 2010 and 2011, even though it is not what we really wanted, and we support it also because we realise that Britain needs a stable government, not deadlock with every party voting down everything proposed by the other parties.

      BUT – and we MUST keep saying this – if there was a stronger LibDem presence in Parliament you would be seeing a stronger LibDem influence in the coalition. This line that we keep hearing “I voted Liberal Democrat, yet I got a government which is largely Tory, so why should I vote Liberal Democrat again?” is nonsense. We have a government which is largely Tory because, unfortunately, more people voted Tory than LibDem in the last election, and we have an electoral system – supported enthusiastically by the Labour Party but not by us – which distorts representation so that the Tories as the biggest party get far more MPs than their share of the vote.

      If you want to change this, there is only one way to do it – more Liberal Democrat votes leading to more Liberal Democrat MPs. Voting Labour in a place like Eastleigh just means one more Tory MP and the coalition therefore being pushed more to the Tory position. We know all the things the Tories would like to do if they had complete control of government – even more service cuts, even more tax cuts for the rich, pushing the NHS down the road to further privatisation, removal of all employment rights to allow sacking at will, removal of legislation which the Tories call ‘red tape’ that protects us from what unscrupulous people will do when all that matters to them is making money. If that’s what you want, vote Tory or Labour in Eastleigh.

      Is it really so difficult for those who lead us to get this message across?

    • “Is it really so difficult for those who lead us to get this message across?”

      It’s impossible, so long as Lib Dem ministers are bound by the traditional interpretation of collective responsibility.

      As for telling people that the Lib Dems would have more influence in the coalition, what good would that do when the party isn’t using the influence it already has – to veto the proposals for secret courts, for example?

    • @Matthew Huntbach
      Just how appalling is the FPTP system will be demonstrated after the Eastleigh declaration when one of fourteen candidates will spew bromides such as ” the voters have sent a clear message….etc.” at the cameras and furry things thrust into their face.
      Had AV been voted for in the 2011 referendum Eastleigh voters would have been able to endorse the coalition by distributing their preferences between the two competing coalition parties. However AV would also have allowed them to choose, say, Labour without worrying that their vote might let in the Conservatives. A local candidate might have even pipped the main parties as the least disliked candidate because he gained more second preferences. Under first past the post that is not an option so voters have to second guess how others are going to vote, leaving the vast majority dissatisfied.
      If the winning candidate wins with more than a 43% vote share on February 28th I will be very surprised. Let’s hope the turnout is high enough to give whoever wins, and I obviously hope it will be Mike Thornton, some sort of mandate to represent the people of Eastleigh.

    • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '13 - 5:28pm

      Chris

      “Is it really so difficult for those who lead us to get this message across?”

      It’s impossible, so long as Lib Dem ministers are bound by the traditional interpretation of collective responsibility

      No, I don’t believe it is impossible. In fact I tried in what I wrote above to use wording that would not conflict with the notion of collective responsibility. It seems to me perfectly possible to say “I accept the policies of the present government and support them as a necessary compromise arising form the balance in Parliament” without also saying or implying “the policies of the present government are our ideal, they are exactly what we would be pursuing even if we were the dominant party in the coalition”.

    • Matthew

      That form of words is fine in principle, but if Nick Clegg is in a studio being interviewed, he’s going to be asked whether he really supports particular policies, and what does he say? “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”?

      Of course, every time a Lib Dem minister does defend a particular policy which is not consistent with Lib Dem policy, and which the party might wish to campaign against at the next election, it stores up more trouble for the future. I don’t think the long-term implications of the coalition deal were appreciated at all when it was made.

    • David Allen 14th Feb '13 - 7:00pm

      I’d find it hard to vote for most Labour candidates at the moment. Miliband is so obviously fence-sitting and hoping to win by default. What John O’Farrell brings, however, is that spark of honesty and self-deprecation which is part of being a good comedian. I think you should be very afraid.

    • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '13 - 6:23pm

      Chris

      Of course, every time a Lib Dem minister does defend a particular policy which is not consistent with Lib Dem policy, and which the party might wish to campaign against at the next election, it stores up more trouble for the future. I don’t think the long-term implications of the coalition deal were appreciated at all when it was made

      They should have been. I said so at the time. I understood the reasons why the coalition was formed, we were in the unfortunate position that it was either that or something worse. However, we needed to make absolutely sure we did what we could do to safeguard ourselves against what would be thrown at us due to the coalition. What you write above is true, yet it is hardly surprising, anyone who thought ahead about how the coalition would work ought to have seen that one coming.

      As I have been saying since 2010, the very first thing we should have done to protect ourselves is not to have seemed so jolly about being in the coalition. The second thing we should have done is to minimise the extent to which we are seen as equally responsible for its policies, since those policies were inevitably going to be far more to the Tory side than to our side. Yet our leaders and the PR people responsible for our national image have done the OPPOSITE of this. They seem to have gone out of their way to do whatever they can within the coalition to make a difficult situation worse.

    • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '13 - 6:33pm

      Chris

      That form of words is fine in principle, but if Nick Clegg is in a studio being interviewed, he’s going to be asked whether he really supports particular policies, and what does he say? “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”?

      He should say he accepts them as part of the compromise that is government. I think he should be able to say that the policies would be different if this were a pure Liberal Democrat government. Look – one of his jobs is “Leader of the Liberal Democrats”, and while that’s the case it seems to me he has a DUTY to say what the pure Liberal Democrat position is. If he feels he can’t do that, he should resign from that position. Pure and simple.

      Whatever outrage the leader of the Liberal Democrats may cause to the Tories by his doing the job of leader of the Liberal Democrats, tough. So, yes, I do say the idea of cabinet “collective responsibility” should be stretched a bit so it can be used to mean “I accept it as a compromise, but it’s not my personal ideal”. That’s going to be true anyway, isn’t it? So why should we lie about it? Isn’t it a rather silly thing to maintain the fiction that everyone in the cabinet thinks every element of the government’s policy is perfect and they wouldn’t change a bit of it even if they had complete power? We all know that is not true, so why pretend it is?

    • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '13 - 6:41pm

      David Allen

      What John O’Farrell brings, however, is that spark of honesty and self-deprecation which is part of being a good comedian. I think you should be very afraid.

      O’Farrell strikes me as a typical metropolitan elite type. Oh so trendy, oh so posing, and oh so very far removed from your working class council estate voter. It’s like the lah-de-dahs they brought in to campaign for the “Yes” side on the AV referendum, probably lost us votes rather than gained them. Eastleigh is NOT the sort of place where a trendy metropolitan campaign would work.

    • “So, yes, I do say the idea of cabinet “collective responsibility” should be stretched a bit so it can be used to mean “I accept it as a compromise, but it’s not my personal ideal”.”

      Yes, I agree, but I think saying that about a particular policy would involve stretching the traditional concept of collective responsibility.

    • Matthew Huntbach 16th Feb '13 - 8:57am

      Chris – so we are agreeing.

      The conventions about how government works have grown up around the idea of single party government. The government we have now is the first time ever we have had a coalition which is not an all-party (apart from a few fringe outsiders) coalition in the era of modern political parties. The Conservatives are already moaning about the Liberal Democrats not observing “collective responsibility” by which they mean complete obedience to the Prime Minister. We do need to stand up to this and say “Sorry, we are in a different situation now, just because that’s how it worked in the past does not mean that’s how it has to work now”. Of course I do appreciate there has to be some unity in government, which is why I still stand up and defend the coalition and the limited influence of the Liberal Democrats in it as a necessary aspect of compromise to achieve it. As I keep saying, the compromise would be a different one if we had an electoral system where the balance in Parliament reflected the share of votes. That is why people who moan about how right-wing this government is have a damn cheek unless they are supporters of proportional representation. The right-wing nature of this government stems from the distortion which ruled out any other coalition and created the balance in Parliament so in favour of the Conservatives. It is the Labour Party which props up the Conservatives, not us, by their support of the electoral system whose distortion gave us what we have now.

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