When Chris Huhne resigned on Monday, I scoffed at those who suggested Labour had any chance of winning the seat. For the avoidance of doubt – I still don’t think there’s much (if any) chance of Labour winning in Eastleigh. But I no longer think that we’ll get trounced.
Today’s Ashcroft constituency poll has Labour in 3rd place – over 10 points behind either the Tories or the Lib Dems. That said, labour’s vote is up 9 points on 2010 (nearly doubling our vote) and when likelihood to vote is removed from the equation, Labour’s vote goes up to 23%.
All of this is happening before Labour selects a candidate, in a part of the world where we’ve traditionally been considered somewhat moribund and without a single councillor to our name. But something is happening on the ground. I’m told that dozens of party activists (and several who aren’t party members) have been heading to Labour’s Eastleigh HQ since Huhne resigned on Monday. Today – as the photo at the bottom of this post shows – there have been large teams of canvassers led by John Denham out and about in the constituency.
It’s not going to win us the seat, but it’s the strongest presence we’ve had in the constituency in perhaps 20 years.
So can Labour cause a shock on the South Coast? Yes – but winning is not the only way for causing a shock. Coming second (or even a strong third) would require a huge improvement in Labour’s fortunes in Eastleigh – and would be a significant upset, as it would require a huge swing to Labour. With a potential 4-way split in the vote, a good finish is possible with a strong campaign, a good candidate and lots of time from volunteers. I’m not as confident as Luke Akehurst (not by a long shot) but I am increasingly of the view that we can at least double Labour’s vote (as a percentage) since 2010, and put the party in the mix for the seat. And if you’re in the mix for the seat – unusual results can happen. Ask George Galloway.
The candidate selection and volunteer mobilisation of the campaign will be crucial – if you can make it down to the seat to campaign, details are available here. I’ll be down there myself in a week or so.
Labour activists on the campaign trail in Eastleigh. Want to join them? Click here.