Lib Dem chief executive Tim Gordon summed up the week so far in his weekly email to activists:
Liberal Democrats have broken their own party’s by-election campaign records with more volunteers, more money raised and more campaign literature delivered in the opening days of the Eastleigh by-election campaign than any other.
And today’s been no exception:
Incredible turn-out from LDs in Eastleigh – 200+ volunteers sign-in at HQ before 10.30am. And almost 1500 donations so far received!
— Stephen Tall (@stephentall) February 23, 2013
And we’ve just broken through the 400 volunteer mark for the day. I’m running out of superlatives to describe the help we’ve had. #eastleigh
— Mike Thornton (@Mike4Eastleigh) February 23, 2013
But just in case anyone thinks, even for a moment, that this isn’t still a fiercely-contested two-horse race with the Tories which could be decided by just a handful of votes in either direction…
300 Tory activists were registered at #Eastleigh campaign HQ by 10am this morning. No shortage of volunteers to deliver and canvass.
— Tim Montgomerie (@TimMontgomerie) February 23, 2013
In other words, Mike Thornton needs all the help we can offer in the last few days. As I wrote last night when news broke of the latest poll showing the party in a narrow lead over the Tories:
So please, please, please do all you can over the next six days to help Mike Thornton’s campaign:
- Volunteer to help out in person;
- Make some phone calls from wherever you are;
- Donate to help finance the campaign.
Next Friday morning will be too late. There has rarely been a more important by-election for the party.
It’s up to us whether we remember it for the right reasons or not…
It certainly looks like Lib Dem efforts have got the Tories and Ukip a bit rattled though…
Tories&UKIP clearly running scared. Telling porkies about posters being taken down in E/leigh by council. Complete&utter rubbish #desperate
— Lib Dem Press Office (@LibDemPress) February 23, 2013
Meanwhile here’s what some of the media has been saying about the Lib Dem campaign:
Eastleigh by-election battle hots up (BBC News)
Have a free biscuit. Help put leaflets into envelopes. Stuff the Tories. That’s what’s on offer at the Liberal Democrats campaign headquarters in a corner of a quiet industrial estate near Eastleigh town centre. Volunteers at the “war room” operation have scrawled on two blank posters on the walls the reason they are taking part. “To stuff Tories” wrote one. “To stop Tories wrecking education” wrote another. The coalition’s on a break in Hampshire. A temporary divorce, to permit the partners to turn on each other in the most significant by-election for a long time.
Eastleigh looks to be a two-horse race (Financial Times)
“Nothing in this campaign looks 6-1 on to me but Ukip and the Lib Dems are buzzing, while the Tories and Labour are not. At 10am in Lib Dem HQ, the reception desk manager announced that the 100th volunteer had arrived. At 2.20pm, he announced number 200. Most were young. It was like old times.”
The Tory campaign limps on OR There’s something about Maria
It’s not been the best couple of days for Maria Hutchings, the Tories’ controversial by-election candidate. Empty-chaired by the BBC for refusing to take part in the Radio 5 Live hustings, many of the press have written her off…
Eastleigh by-election: Maria Hutchings, the Tory party’s ‘loose cannon’ (Telegraph)
Conservative aides are now privately admitting that they do not expect to win the crucial by-election. Mrs Hutchings has come under fire for reportedly saying that local state schools would not be good enough to help her “gifted” son become a surgeon. She later claimed to have been misquoted. She has also revealed strong views against abortion, the European Union and gay marriage.
Eastleigh Tory candidate Maria Hutchings: ‘I am not being hidden’
The Conservative candidate in the Eastleigh byelection has denied she dodged a national radio hustings because party minders regard her as a “loose cannon”. Maria Hutchings’ rivals claim she is being hidden away because she has attracted headlines for outspoken and off-message views on issues including the EU, state education and gay marriage. The prime minister, David Cameron, was drawn into the row during a visit to Eastleigh on Thursday when he accused the BBC of acting “badly and stupidly” over the debate.
But while the Tories might be embarrassed by their candidates’ unvarnished right-wing views, the party itself is looking to frame its 2015 election strategy around the ‘Maria manifesto’:
Eric Pickles in Eastleigh: Lib Dems are holding Tories back (Spectator)
Expect to hear more and more of this even once the Eastleigh by-election has finished. The Tory leadership met at Chequers this week to discuss their party’s immigration and welfare strategy, and strategists believe the party could reap significant benefits if it is able to show that the Lib Dems have been holding them back from ‘doing the right thing for hardworking families’ on these areas, too.
Mind you, this isn’t exactly the first time the Tories have adopted this strategy. Here’s the Daily Mail from 9 months ago…
Although, to be fair, Iain Duncan Smith has come up with an ingenious to win over waverers:
Eastleigh byelection: Tories urged to tell voters Chris Huhne is a liar (Guardian)
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has urged his party’s candidate at the Eastleigh byelection to constantly remind voters that the former holder of the seat, the disgraced Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, “is a liar”.
The New Statesman’s George Eaton poses the provocative question: Will Cameron’s five nightmares come true? One of them already has (Britain’s lost its triple-A status), a second may (may) happen this Thursday… if the Tories lose.
The Tories already appear resigned to defeat in Eastleigh, where the Lib Dems’ local advantage – they hold all 36 council seats in the constituency – has given them the edge. Victory for “the yellow bastards” means it will be even harder for Cameron to argue that a Conservative majority is achievable in 2015. The party has included 20 Lib Dem MPs on its target list of 40 in the hope that they will prove easier to dislodge than their Labour counterparts, but Eastleigh suggests that Clegg’s party will benefit from a significant incumbency advantage. The Lib Dems’ plan to treat the general election as “57 by-elections” looks increasingly smart.
Don’t be fooled by the expectations game!
The Tories have downplayed expectations of how they’ll do in the Eastleigh by-election so far that even retaining second place would now be claimed by them as an achievement. But the polling has consistently shown that this by-election really is neck-and-neck. Any let up at all in the last few days could be enough to see the Tories grab a shock victory.
Ukip if you want to
Nigel Farage is never lacking in self-belief…
David Cameron will face leadership crisis if Tories lose Eastleigh by-election, says Nigel Farage (Telegraph)
The Ukip leader said that a Tory defeat in the by-election next week could begin a sequence of events that raises doubts about the Prime Minister’s position later this year. … Mr Farage said he believed many Conservatives are demoralised, raising questions about their leadership. “It’s pretty serious,” Mr Farage told the Daily Telegraph. “What I’ve picked up over the last few days is that they have now basically conceded that they cannot win this by-election.”
But he is lacking his only female MEP after Marta Andreasen defected to the Tories:
David Cameron received a boost on Friday night when a Ukip MEP revealed that she was defecting to the Tories. Less than a week before the Eastleigh byelection, Marta Andreasen quit and launched an excoriating attack on Nigel Farage’s leadership.
Although Conservative blogger Iain Dale reckons the Tories should beware:
The Tories should be very careful of this woman. I know from others that there have been other incidents which show her to be, shall we say, a full pesetas short of a euro.
As for Labour…
It’s less than a fortnight since Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer:
They dare not say so in public, but there are some Labour people who dream of a scenario in which they do very well in Eastleigh, even so well as to leapfrog over the squabbling coalition parties and snatch a victory. It sounds outlandish at the moment, but as one senior Labour figure puts it: “Stranger things have happened in byelections.” Ukip nibbles away at the Tory vote from the right flank. Labour gains some switchers from the Conservatives and more from the Lib Dems. It is then just about possible to envisage Labour winning the seat.
Today’s Independent headline sums up the deflation in Labour ranks:
Labour fears fourth place behind Ukip in Eastleigh by-election
Labour fears it will limp in fourth in next week’s Eastleigh by-election, dealing a blow to Ed Miliband’s efforts to project it as the “one nation” party. Despite selecting a relatively high-profile candidate, Labour has struggled to build momentum in the Hampshire constituency, party sources have acknowledged. … Mr Miliband has underlined the contest’s importance to the party by campaigning in the seat. One of his closest allies, Sadiq Khan, insisted last week: “We need a good turnout in Eastleigh or it would give the impression there are no-go areas for Labour.”
Ian Murray, editor-in-chief of the local paper, offers his highly objective views of the candidates — Are Eastleigh’s by-election candidates the worst ever? — a flagrant grab for the ‘I hate politics and politicians’ readership the press increasingly enjoys playing up to.
And no by-election round-up is complete without the latest betting odds:
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) February 23, 2013
And finally finally…
— Greg Judge (@gregjudge) February 23, 2013
This is the eight of my round-ups of news from Eastleigh:
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of all the weekend’s news (11 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (12 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (13 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the week’s campaign news (15 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of all the weekend’s news (18 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (19 Feb);
Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (21 Feb).
And you can read my Co-Editor Mark Pack’s rounds-up on his site here.
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.