5 reasons for Lib Dems to campaign in Eastleigh (just in case you needed any more)

eastleigh campaignMark Pack has posted last night’s poll findings from Eastleigh, showing the Tories narrowly ahead with both Labour and Ukip out of serious contention. In case you needed some reasons to help the Lib Dem campaign in the next three weeks in whatever way you’re able here are 5 from me…

The Lib Dems can win…

Lord Ashcroft’s poll is pretty ideal for the party: it piles the pressure on the Tories as early front-runners, while confirming how tight the contest will be. The Lib Dems’ local strength is significant — as Lord (Chris) Rennard has pointed out, it’s the only constituency in the country where every local authority councillor, at district and county level, comes from one party. The party even topped the poll in the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections. This will matter a lot when it comes to the Get Out The Vote operation on polling day. And you can bet your bottom dollar the party’s canvas figures will be much more complete than the Tories’ and certainly Labour’s, a big factor given turnout will be down on the general election.

… And we deserve to win

So the Coalition hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses for the Lib Dems. But two things strike me time and again.

The first, often commented on by journalists, is how much more disciplined the party is being in Coalition: not just the parliamentary party, but members too. That’s not to suggest there isn’t serious disagreement within the party over its direction: there is. But because there are democratic outlets such as our party conference those disagreements haven’t descended to the acrimonious levels they have in the Tory party.

The second thing that strikes me, and is rarely commented on by journalists, is how often the Tories reach for Lib Dem policies when they defend the Coalition, whether it’s raising the tax threshold for the low-paid, or the pupil premium, or apprenticeships for young people. Put it this way, when was the last time you heard a Tory proudly stick up for cutting the 50p top tax-rate or for wanting to bring in fire-at-will employment legislation?

Eastleigh will be the party’s first road-testing of the 2015 election pitch in the Lib Dem / Tory battlegrounds: the Lib Dems have delivered some good stuff in government, and it could have been better and fairer still if it hadn’t been for the Tories.

Enjoy the Tory meltdown if they lose

Remember, the Tories start out as favourites in three ways. First, because Lord Ashcroft’s poll shows they are a nose in front. Secondly, because of the circumstances of Chris Huhne’s resignation. And thirdly, because the Tories always assume they can and should win in seats like Eastleigh. It’s fun to turn the clock back to summer 2007, and recall the Tory paroxysms which greeted their third place at the Ealing and Southall by-election, a contest they’d fully expected to win. Mind you, this time the grief might be less profound. There will be a fair few Tory MPs who wouldn’t mind defeat if it meant David Cameron were edged closer to the departure lounge.

Whatever reservations Lib Dem members might have about the direction of the party or of the Coalition, the thought of stopping the Tories re-gaining Eastleigh will guarantee a supply of eager volunteers from now until the 28th February.

Change the media narrative

If — and it remains an if — the Lib Dems hold Eastleigh, it will undoubtedly change the media narrative. The Tories are second in 38 of the Lib Dems’ 57 seats, so if they cannot win in a by-election when they are able to devote their huge financial resources to just one seat it suggests they’ll struggle to make a major dent in that tally. All those glib assertions about the Lib Dems facing ‘wipeout’ and ‘extinction’ will look pretty flaky. A hold in Eastleigh coupled with an okay set of results in this May’s English local elections would maybe ensure the media, at least the serious bits of it, take a closer look at what’s likely to happen in May 2015 rather than what they’d like to see happen then.

Oh, I promised you 5 reasons, didn’t I? Well, come on we’re Lib Dems, for goodness’ sake. If a by-election won’t get even the most jaded Clegg-sceptic, Coalition-doubting activists’s juices running then we really do have something to worry about.

Here’s all the details you need for how you can help ensure the next MP sticking up for the people of Eastleigh is a Lib Dem.

* 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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7 Comments

  • I’m still not at all convinced you’re going to win, but if you did, wouldn’t it also completely change the balance of power between the coalition parties?

    If the Lib Dems had reason to think they could hold marginal LD/Con seats like Eastleigh despite low opinion poll ratings, and the Tories remained anything up to 15 points behind Labour in the polls (with the old boundaries favouring Labour still in place), wouldn’t that mean the Tories would be absolutely terrified of an early election, and the Lib Dems – wouldn’t?

  • A really important point to note from Ashcroft’s polling* is that 35% of 2010 Eastleigh LD voters have gone to Don’t Know, not to Labour or another party. This is 16% of the whole electorate and is exactly equal to the fall in LD voting intention since the general election. We really need positive campaigning to bring this large chunk of the electorate back to us and also we need to squeeze Labour hard.

    (* The fact that the Conservatives are being led by the nose by plutocrats like Ashcroft just shows how anti democratic the basic nature of their party is. A negative point that one, I know, but so very true)

  • One thing I haven’t heard mentioned in the analyses is money: how much do the parties have on hand and how much are they willing to spend?

  • Richard Shaw 9th Feb '13 - 6:21am

    @ Anthony

    “the only constituency in the country where every local authority councillor, at district and county level, comes from one party” (my emphasis)

    Which excludes those constituencies within Unitary or Metropolitan Borough Councils that you’ve listed.

  • Stephen,

    caught your chat with Ken Livingstone on LBC radio this morning about the Eastleigh by-election and the conservative candidate, Maria Hutchings . Good exchange – you came over well.

    In trying to assess whether Ms. Hutchings was more the new touchy-feely type conservative or inclined more to the hang and flog ‘em wing of the Tory party, the conversation mentioned remarks in 2005 by Ms. Hutchings that are preumably a reference to the quotes as per the New Stateman article How Tory by-election candidate Maria Hutchings attacked asylum seekers , where it is reported she had the following to say in interviews:

    “With an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers then the pot is reduced for the rest of us”.

    “Mr Blair has got to stop focusing on issues around the world such as Afghanistan and Aids in Africa and concentrate on the issues that affect the people of Middle England, like myself who pay the taxes which keep the country going.”

    In another interview she remarked:

    “I don’t care about refugees. I care about my little boy and I want the treatment he deserves.”

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