Did Labour miscalculate ex-LibDem voters in Eastleigh?

February 27, 2013 7:42 am

I’m not sure why anyone expected any different. All the polling from Eastleigh is at least consistent on one point: Labour has only a minuscule hope of winning. The latest poll from Lord Ashcroft this week showed Labour at 12%; an earlier one by Survation showed Labour at 13%. This isn’t much of an improvement over Labour’s vote of 10% in 2010.

Since we need to make serious inroads into areas like Eastleigh in 2015, does this mean Labour is doomed? No.

Take a closer look at the polling and something else stands out. Voters were asked by Survation (table 7) what most attracted them to a choice (including party leader, candidate themselves etc): the percentage who said they were voting tactically to ‘stop another candidate’ was significantly higher for LibDems (22.6%) than Labour (11.7%) and the Conservatives (5.7%). Admittedly, this isn’t a pointed question directly about tactical voting but it does say something about the by-election.

There is indeed a deeper reservoir of support Labour can tap into now, post-2010. But many Lib Dem voters in Eastleigh still think Labour has a low chance of winning, and voting for them could hand Maria Hutchings a victory.

John O’Farrell seems to be a great candidate and Labour have no doubt used this by-election to build a more solid foundation for the future.

But as Mark Ferguson pointed out early on, the seat was way down on the list of target seats. And yet Labour will now be charged by the media for under-performing badly on the 28th.

I think it was a mistake to raise expectations for Eastleigh. Of course, many on the right will say it is a disaster for Ed Miliband even if the party won the seat outright.

But the low polling says something else, I think, about Lib Dem voters. Many thought a large proportion of them would move to Labour en masse. But this seems to misunderstand their motivations: in areas like Eastleigh the ex-LibDem vote is still more anti-Tory than it is pro-Labour. So they seem to be sticking with the candidate they think has the most chance of stopping Hutchings.

There is one major lesson for Labour here for 2015: appealing to ex-Lib Dem voters will take a lot more than just comparing the party to the Conservatives and pointing to the last three years. The party needs a more positive agenda and it has not quite banked that constituency – despite the last three years.

  • NT86

    Sunny, they’re not technically ex-Lib Dem voters if they’re going to vote for Mike Thornton tomorrow. Those are what I call current Lib Dem voters, even if it’s a strategic choice to keep Maria out. Plus don’t ever underestimate the strength of a local council if they’re seen as doing a good job. And how do we know if some natural Labour supporters in Eastleigh aren’t also tactically going for UKIP to further prevent a Tory win? That’s the nature of FPTP.

    It’s the Tory/Labour marginals and three way marginals (a few of which where Labour came in third) which really count. These are seats where the anti-Labour vote transferred mostly to the Lib Dems. Let’s see how well Labour fares in battlegrounds in the Midlands or a few places in the south where the LD vote has traditionally been low.

  • Daniel Speight

    The argument from the right of the party will be that Miliband has moved too far to left, and of course vice-versa.

    So let’s make a few suppositions.

    One that seems quite common is the Liberal activist base is to the left of its leadership and most of its MPs. Another is that prior to the coalition the Liberals were taking positions to left of New Labour. Another one we could suspect is that the average Liberal voter is closer to the activist base than to the Orange Bookers.

    This would hint that to win Liberal voters in the south we should think again on the authoritarian law & order (Cooper) and the pro-war (Murphy) positions taken by some in the party. Looking for a swing a voter from the present day Tories to Labour may be a step too far (or something only a Tony Blair can achieve), whereas a swing from Liberal to Labour may be possible if the party becomes a little more ‘liberal’ in its outlook.

  • AnotherDaveB

    The destination of those ‘tactical/protest’ votes favoured UKIP over the other parties:

    “the 13.3% of the sample whose voting intention is driven by Protest/Tactical reasons split 36% UKIP 22% Ld 22% Con 20% Lab”

    http://www7.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2013/02/23/eastleigh-now-survation-for-the-mail-on-sunday-has-the-tories-4-percent-ahead/#comment-810146019

  • Martin Phillips

    Sorry but this piece could only have been written by someone who has no idea about the SE (or SW). There are plenty of us in the region who could have told you (and have been telling the London-based party for 15 years +) that tactical voting is a big part of LD support in a place like Eastleigh, and all across the SE/SW in the seats where Labour wouldn’t beat the Tories. Even when Labour was second, the LD squeeze message worked to build their vote in places where our chances of a general election win were tough.

    The LD support in the green bits of the country comes from several sources, but it is mostly people who are against someone or something else. So they get a lot of disgruntled Tories (that is how they won Guildford for one term); they get Labour supporters who vote tactically to keep out Tories; they get support from people who are against “all of you” (but actually the two main parties); and then they get support form people through their opposition to housing developments and the like.

    The LDs in Eastleigh and Portsmouth have built huge support through opposition politics and very active communications. They are difficult to attack because their policies are populist and oppositionalist – even when they run councils or are in coalition government they still find someone to attack and blame.

    People in Labour who plan strategy will never get tactics against the LDs right until they come into the regions and speak to local campaigners in areas where Labour does not traditionally win. The view from London is not good enough.

    And actually attacking LDs is like trying to nail down a jelly – because so few people vote for them for positive reasons, attacks on what they say just doesn’t work. People dismiss talk of inconsistency – they just remember that Focus that said the LDs oppose X Y and Z, popular local causes.

    • postageincluded

      I’m sure that’s all true except that it doesn’t just apply in the South – the LibDems entrench themselves using the same methods wherever they get a chance.

      The constituency I live in, in the NW, had almost the exact vote share in 2010 as Eastleigh and has a very similar local councillor profile too. “Labour can’t win here” leafletting has squeezed the Labour vote dry over the last 20 years, and though our result wasn’t all that bad in 2010 I get the feeling that may be because the LDs had already co-opted every persuadable Labour supporter by 2005 and the diehards now constitute our vote.

      No doubt we’ll get back a lot of the “conscience” voters (Anti-war and Anti-Gordon) lost in 2005 and 2010, but unless active steps are taken locally to contest the practice most of the tactical votes will stay tactical. I’m not sure what those steps would be, other than fight them on their ground, local issues. I don’t think though that much national strategy can be tailored towards constituencies like yours and mine. Except perhaps attacking the LDs more and putting more emphasis on how little difference there is between LD and Tory, and how very, very likely they are to do another deal with Cameron, given the chance.

      By the way, don’t believe everything you hear. Even if we exclude London from the figures for the South, the population density in the North – including our great conurbations – is only marginally more than in the South. The north is not all industrial wasteland – we do see the occasional blade of grass here, and it is sometimes even green.

      • Martin Phillips

        Agree with what you say – and sorry the crack about green bits was aimed at the London/metropolitan view in Labour rather than the north. Your seat and mine would have much more in common than mine would with any inner London seat, or yours and an inner Manchester or Leeds one.
        We got seats back on our local council from the LDs by community politics – pothole petitions – and targeting students. I still don’t see attacks on LD honesty working anywhere – the Populus poll in Eastleigh said only qr of LD voters there have positive view of Clegg and over half thought of Huhne negatively. Yet they will still be voting LD. That’s what I mean about attacking a jelly – the LDs seem somehow able to separate their party form what their elected people actually do.

        • Neil Guild

          I can relate to your comments on trying to manage the LDs. It’s very tough coming from third place at a local level and trying to take on people who have no apparent consistency, will leap on anything that flies with local voters, and won’t even engage on, let alone defend, their own parliamentary party’s decisions as part of the coalition. Where I am in Somerset 4 out of the 5 MPs are LD, with all 4 of them in the government. You’d never guess from local LDs that the government had anything to do with them or that the cuts in local government being pushed through had been voted for by their MPs. You are right to identify their permanent oppositional mindset. Even today local Lib Dems in Somerset are campaigning against the badger cull while ignoring that David Heath MP is a DEFRA minister.

          I’d like to think that this weird schism between local and national politics would at some point lead to a break down within the party but there is no obvious sign of it yet. They’ve lost a lot of members but their existing councillors can still be relied to contest. The root of this is perhaps the unhealthy star worship by local Lib Dem activists of their MPs. With so few in the party they do seem to hold them in higher regard than the Tories/Labour.

          The mutual reinforcement between a Lib Dem MP (and his constituency office) and the councillor base also seems to be higher than with the two larger parties. Since the last GE there has been a correlation in local elections in the South of England between survival of LD councillors and incumbency of a local LD MP. Where there has been no MP to provide top cover they’ve lost a lot of councillors, but in some places in the South where they have an MP, like Bath or Cheltenham, they’ve actually made gains since 2010. Breaking this link has to be part of any Labour strategy assuming we are serious about doing some real harm to the Lib Dems. We also need to think hard about how willing we are to tolerate the survival of Lib Dem MPs where it keeps out a potential Tory MP.

        • robertcp

          Labour will never win in your area, so anti-Tory voters very sensibly vote for the candidate with the best chance of winning.

        • robertcp

          Labour will never win in your area, so anti-Tory voters very sensibly vote for the candidate with the best chance of winning.

          • Martin Phillips

            So they voted Lib Dem, got a Tory MP anyway and voted for a party in Coalition with the Tories. As an anti-Tory strategy it didn’t work very well did it?

    • http://www.pickledpolitics.com Sunny H

      ” There are plenty of us in the region who could have told you (and have been telling the London-based party for 15 years +) that tactical voting is a big part of LD support in a place like Eastleigh, and all across the SE/SW in the seats where Labour wouldn’t beat the Tories. ”

      – which is, er, exactly what I say in the article. Actually, nothing you say contradicts me.

    • http://www.pickledpolitics.com Sunny H

      Your comment in response to my article doesn’t actually contradict anything I said. So Its not even clear to me what you’re arguing against…

  • John Ruddy

    I think this is a little depressing for those of us who live in seats where Labour is third. This is a situation which, to be honest, could not be better for us.
    The Lib Dems had a convicted liar as the previous MP (the reason for the by-election), no matter which of the two leading parties you voted for, you got the same policies, massive support from both Labour HQ and activists in the area and beyond, a lacklustre (at best!) Tory candidate and a good Labour candidate.
    Yet it seems we will poll only marginally more than in 2010 – our low point in the seat for many years.

  • John Ruddy

    I think this is a little depressing for those of us who live in seats where Labour is third. This is a situation which, to be honest, could not be better for us.
    The Lib Dems had a convicted liar as the previous MP (the reason for the by-election), no matter which of the two leading parties you voted for, you got the same policies, massive support from both Labour HQ and activists in the area and beyond, a lacklustre (at best!) Tory candidate and a good Labour candidate.
    Yet it seems we will poll only marginally more than in 2010 – our low point in the seat for many years.

    • robertcp

      Voting Labour in Eastleigh is a waste of time in FPTP elections.

      • Martin Phillips

        But if all the Lib Dem voters voted tactically for Labour instead, we’d win. Voting for an LD who then goes to Westminster and votes with the Coalition is NOT stopping the Tories – it’s supporting them. The Coalition proved once and for all that tactical voting LD to keep out the Tories does not work.

        • robertcp

          Rightly or wrongly, many Lib Dem voters in places in places like Eastleigh will never vote Labour, so Labour voters have the choice of wasting their vote or voting tactically.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pelton-Level/100001426773952 Pelton Level

        Exactly what the LibDems say.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pelton-Level/100001426773952 Pelton Level

        Exactly what the LibDems say.

        • robertcp

          Because it happens to be true.

  • LondonStatto

    “as Mark Ferguson pointed out early on, the seat was way down on the list of target seats”

    But only because so many Labour supporters were persuaded to vote dishonestly (and Labour didn’t try to discourage the practice).

  • eastender

    Dont expect a good result for Labour tomorrow night. The general feeling in Eastleigh is a plague on all your houses. The Libs are likely to hang on simply because they have such a remakably high level of organisation (far more than in any other seat, which is a credit to Chris Huhne though I cant see these skills are likely to be of much use to him in the future…..). UKIP are in with an outside chance of winning, certainly a good chance of beating the Tories. Nigel Farage made a mistake not standing given his media profile UKIP would have stood a much bigger chance with him as candidate. Perhaps we might see a post here comparing Nigel Farage with Beppi Grillo:)

    The story will be how the Tories couldnt win and how UKIP are a huge threat to them. However UKIP will take votes from all parties. Expect much more nonsense about the hordes of Romanians / Bulgarians all waiting to come and take our benefits / jobs / healthcare and other lies. It is not going to be pleasant, certainly Labour’s poor showing will be used by the tories to deflect attention from their own problems. Also by the tory media to try and cover up their own irrelevance (despite unrelenting negative personal attacks it doesnt seem to have helped their friends).

    How much this byelection will tell us about future political trends is doubtful, but perhaps folk here might be a little more sceptical about claims of well organised campaigns coming from Labour party HQ………

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    The point is that Labour doesn’t need to win Eastleigh and never did – even when it was more of a marginal. We are simply not going to do very well in southern seats where the LibDems are well established and we are clearly third. Its really not important that we do and I wish we would simply get on with winning the votes to give us a majority, not fret about seats we have never won and never will

    • Martin Phillips

      Everyone deserves a Labour MP and Labour council, Ask the people in Eastleigh who are unemployed or on poor pay, who can’t find a home to live in, who are suffering from service cuts,,,,,

  • cari_esky5

    I’m Labour and would vote Lib DEm if I lived in Eastleigh if it meant that the Tory candidate would be kept out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Graeme-Hancocks/1156294498 Graeme Hancocks

    I used to live in the area until 1998 and know it somewhat. If the opinion polls are right and the libdems get around 30%, this is still a big fall in their vote and consistent with national opinion polls. A lot of Labour voters in Eastleigh will be very aware that they are in fourth place and will be using their vote primarily to keep the tories out and will vote tactically holding their noses and voting libdem or perhaps UKIP. If I were honest, although I have little truck with UKIP, I might be tempted to vote for them if I thought they had a chance of taking the seat just to enjoy the mess this would cause for Clegg and Cameron both. Come a General Election, it is a very different matter.

  • petermorris

    Labour received 9% of the vote in the 2010 election. It was never going to win from such a low base. It is possible that the previous result was because some voters voted strategically for the Lib Dems to try to keep out the Tories. I am not sure if there is enough to win them back again.

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