Why Labour probably won’t win in Eastleigh

February 24, 2013 2:55 pm

Eastleigh – the one that (probably) got away. Labour could win this seat (anything can happen in a by-election, especially when the economy is in turmoil and theres a sex scandal unfolding), but probably won’t.  Ladbrokes now have Labour at 100/1 to take the seat – out from just 8/1 and the bookies are rarely, if ever, that wrong. With the Liberal Democrats learning from the New Labour trick of the lightning speed election, there has been little time for opposition parties to build their case with the largest number of “Don’t Know” voters in recent by-election history. Meanwhile Labour has suffered from the overwhelming desire of the majority of Eastleigh people to send David Cameron packing. Their chosen vehicle is the is the Liberal Democrats, who have had the seat in lock-down since Chris Huhne first pleaded his innocence. Seasoned political organisers will privately tell you that this is the best organised seat the in the Liberal Democrats’ stable. The legacy of Huhne is 40 councillors, an impressive database, and a postal vote operation par excellence – all vital if you are organising a election in less than a month. Labour activists in Hampshire certainly won’t be throwing in the towel before polls close, but any real expectation of a shock surge in the Labour vote has now dissipated.

But despite the likely low ranking, Ed Miliband and his team can still take heart from their experience on the South coast. Back in 1994, when Labour spent a ridiculous sum of money over many months to come second in this seat, voting Labour seemed an alien act on the South coast. It’s not like that now. Many voters are still quizzical about Ed Miliband’s Labour but they are not hostile or angry as they have been in the past. One experienced Labour MP this week said the vote was “soft as putty” in reference to the staggering number of 2010 Lib Dem voters who now scoff at Nick Clegg’s party on the doorstep. “They want to vote Labour but are scared in so doing they’ll let Cameron in”, she said.

In three weeks it’s impossible for Toby Perkins MP and his team to convince sympathetic supporters Labour can win – so they turn to the non-Cameron option they believe can win. Frustratingly, that’s the Lib Dems.

Despite what you read in the newspapers, the Tory campaign is not collapsing because  of the performance of their dreadful candidate Maria Hutchings. Though she carries the new nickname “Mefear Hustings” because of her inability to turn up to public debates, she is not responsible for the meltdown. Eastleigh voters are furious with the coalition and scornful of David Cameron. It’s why some of them will express their annoyance by voting for UKIP, who have run a smart campaign fronted by Nigel Farage.

How can the Liberal Democrats win when there is fury with the government they are part of? The genius of the Liberal Democrat campaign is that they’ve managed to convince the people of Eastleigh that the local Lib Dems are nothing like those beastly national Lib Dems (despite Chris Huhne having been a Cabinet Minister). In Eastleigh, the Liberal Democrats are not the same people who voted for tax breaks for millionaires and the bedroom tax. On their leaflets they are the people who stand up for green spaces and give pensioners tax cuts. They’ve pulled out every stop to convince voters their local candidate is not tainted by the voting record of Lib Dem MPs. And in three short weeks, it looks like they’re going to pull it off. The shameless bunch even carried a quote from Alan Johnson claiming Labour couldn’t win in Eastleigh on one of their leaflets (a lesson to even the most experienced politician that loose talk can damage a campaign).

Labour has tried it’s best to undo the Lib Dem magic. It’s rumoured that Perkins kept his campaign team up through the night on Friday as they rushed out a “Stop Press” leaflet after the announcement that Moody’s downgraded it’s forecast for the UK economy. His experiences of defeating a sitting Lib Dem MP in the gruelling general election of 2010 has been invaluable to his team of young supporters, members and volunteers. In two weeks they have mobilised a battalion of workers who have spoken to over 20,000 people on the phones and doorstep – an unheard of target even just a year ago. Labour’s social media campaign has been more engaging and inventive - as additional resources meant that the party was able to send a staff member from the digital team down to work full time in Eastleigh. The Arnie Graf training school is beginning to lay roots. Trainee organisers have mobilised members and supporters more effectively, training the keenest volunteers and giving them the skills to carry on the fight when the campaign team rolls out of town. That might mean Labour one day becomes a force in Eastleigh, regardless of how the polls might look on Thursday evening.

John O’Farrell will probably not carry the words MP after his name at the end of this week. But he should perhaps carry the prefix “saint”. This lifelong Labour activist has endured a vicious attack from the Daily Mail and a punishing physical schedule of blitz and canvass sessions. Despite the attacks, he’s avoided the anodyne soundbites that are normally de rigeur for by-election candidates – and that’s a change that is much for the better.

Few in Labour circles claim that coming 2nd, 3rd or 4th in Eastleigh is a disaster for the party – because it isn’t. It’s 258th on our target seat list, meaning this has been one by-election where Labour has been able to enjoy the ride with little national political impact. That’s not the case for the Tories. If Cameron comes second – or even third – he will have a very rocky time. The rise of UKIP in this by-election sets up a deadly test for the Tory leader in the Euro and local government elections in 2014. And as Eastleigh is on the Grant Shapps general election target list, if they can’t win it in a by-election caused the outgoing MP pleading guilty to his crimes and resigning in disgrace, what does that say to his unruly group of MPs marginal seats?

Failure contributes to the increasing view that David Cameron is a one term Prime Minister. That’s why, in the words of Nigel Farage, defeat would be a catastrophe for David Cameron. It’s a situation that should bring a bigger smile to the face of Ed Miliband than one of John  O’Farrell’s gags. But to be honest, if Cameron-baiting Tea Party Tory disaster-area Maria Hutchings is elected MP and added to the rebellious rabble on Cameron’s backbenches, Miliband might just be smiling at that news too…

  • volcanopete

    My experience of early fights against the Libdems suggests Labour’s GOTV team will discover quite a few “double-promises” on election day.I recall one couple who had 2 cars come at the same time to pick them up,Labour and Liberal.They certainly know how to complicate matters.

  • http://twitter.com/JAMES4578 JAMES COLE

    In contrast with the narrative of some of the media according to the latest polls race is tight in Eastleigh with the Tories leading in one survey even if most observers view Maria Hutchins as a bit of a loose cannon. Pollsters record in by elections is mixed though and the Liberal Democrats do have the organisation on the ground and strong local presence. However,the Lord Rennard issue could still affect them adversely.Whilst Labour never expected to really be challenging here UKIP polling strongly when they lost deposit last time,though seem to be viewed as the anti establishment choice by many.

  • Gabrielle

    Even if Labour isn’t going to win in Eastleigh, it sounds as if the campaign itself will prove invaluable experience and good practice regarding fighting for other constituencies.

    My hunch has been that Hutchings would win, despite her numerous gaffes and the fact that the LibDems are running a hypocritical campaign which may fool some of the people. I think it will be very close, with Labour and UKIP both polling well – and not forgetting the National Health Action Party, which may also do better than expected.

    Hutchings, if she does become an MP, will be trouble for Cameron . She will eventually realise that being a Tory MP and standing up for disability rights are mutually exclusive. She may also realise how misogynist the Tory party (and Cameron himself ) actually are.

  • Gabrielle

    Even if Labour isn’t going to win in Eastleigh, it sounds as if the campaign itself will prove invaluable experience and good practice regarding fighting for other constituencies.

    My hunch has been that Hutchings would win, despite her numerous gaffes and the fact that the LibDems are running a hypocritical campaign which may fool some of the people. I think it will be very close, with Labour and UKIP both polling well – and not forgetting the National Health Action Party, which may also do better than expected.

    Hutchings, if she does become an MP, will be trouble for Cameron . She will eventually realise that being a Tory MP and standing up for disability rights are mutually exclusive. She may also realise how misogynist the Tory party (and Cameron himself ) actually are.

    • NT86

      Not on recent polling she won’t. UKIP could be a much bigger factor in this than just the Lib Dem’s local influence.

  • http://twitter.com/ElliotBidgood Elliot Bidgood

    Interesting article, but given that dueling polls in the past two days have shown either the Lib Dems and the Tories with a small lead, stating that Eastleigh voters have an “overwhelming” anti-Cameron lean and that the Tory campaign has imploded strikes as premature. I’d be tempted to say that the credit downgrade will hit the Tories and seal it for the Lib Dems (yes they’re in the government too and have signed up to its economic programme, but the blame is being heaped on Osborne), but even that isn’t certain when it’s that close.
    Also, while it’s just a by-election in Lib-Con marginal and the ‘week’s along time in politics’ effect shields parties from the long-term impact of losses that seem important at the time (see Bradford West), we are going to have to endure a few days of jibes and ‘told ya sos’ from those who argued we shouldn’t have contested this one.

    • rekrab

      Elliot, don’t phone home the result yet! the polling isn’t weighted enough, for sure what is for sure will be the spread of voting in such times, at this time it’s an under arm throw and the over arm fast ball will come on polling day.Interesting, you related to Bradford West by-election?

      • http://twitter.com/ElliotBidgood Elliot Bidgood

        I hope you’re right rekrab, I apologise for being disparaging. I was campaigning in Eastleigh yesterday and the last two weekends as well, for what it’s worth, and might phone-canvass from London on the day if I get the chance. I’m certainly proud of the party’s efforts, it’s been an incredible and like everyone I’m praying that John’s last-minute push highlighting the downgrade bears fruit. I’m just concerned about making sure we don’t set false expectations either, I suppose.

  • disqus_LWYj48n3U3

    I don’t see that it’s a problem if Labour don’t get many votes here. I’m a member of Labour, I desperately want them to get back into power in 2015, and if I lived in Eastleigh, I would be voting Lib Dem. As you say, a vote for Labour in this campaign – and probably in most Tory / Lib Dem marginals – is a vote for the Tories. However I don’t share the view that it’s frustrating that the Lib Dems get the anti-Tory vote. Would you rather that went to UKIP? UKIP, who have abandoned all their initial principles of libertarianism, who now shamelessly employ and court the vote of the nation’s most spiteful and heartless homophobes and xenophobes? If the mood of the public is such that UKIP MPs could actually be voted in, then Labour have no hope at all in 2015. Also bear in mind that if the Alternative Vote had been passed, (I don’t know when it was due to be introduced), Labour voters could freely vote Labour without risking letting in the Tory. And it was Labour whose MPs in the large part joined abandoned their leader to join forces with the Tories and scupper it. So I will be pleased to see a Lib Dem win in Eastleigh this week, as a sure sign that Labour can win the next election.

  • NT86

    You know what? I agree with Mark that Labour’s chances a very slim. But if the Lib Dems were to lose to anyone I personally would not mind a surprise UKIP victory. Diane James’ campaign with Nigel Farage by her side is meant to be going quite well. While I’m not a UKIP voter, that’s a slap in the face for both coalition parties. She’s certainly more clear headed than Maria Hutchings and it would be pure entertainment seeing a UKIP MP tearing into the Tories (i.e. a party that is to the right of them).

    Labour needs to be this proactive elsewhere though. There’s about 25+ seats in the south which they stand a good chance of regaining in 2015 as well as many Tory marginals in the Midlands. Mobilise the activists and councillors in those areas and you’ve got a good campaign on your hands.

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

    With the libdems problems with Rennard – fanned by the lovely Daily Mail and others – this is likely to be quite close. Personally would be delighted to see UKIP sneak in and take it – not because I have much time for them but what a wonderful bloody nose it would be for both sides of this awful coalition government.

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

    With the libdems problems with Rennard – fanned by the lovely Daily Mail and others – this is likely to be quite close. Personally would be delighted to see UKIP sneak in and take it – not because I have much time for them but what a wonderful bloody nose it would be for both sides of this awful coalition government.

    • PeterBarnard

      I think it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, Graham. You are right about the “bloody nose …,” but that has to be set against the undoubted appearances on our TV screens (and on Today, The World at One, and pm) of a gloating Mr Farage … topped off with more appearances on the 10 o’ clock news and Newsnight.

  • Daniel Speight

    Maybe it will be a warning to Ed Miliband that Labour must not rely on the unpopularity of the coalitions parties to win in 2015. I’m not one for shouting that we need policies now, but I do think the party needs to differentiate itself from the rest of the political class. UKIP can do this as they are single issue group, but Labour can also do it by taking a principled social democratic stand on what they want society to look like in the future. The leadership skirts around doing so because of the deadweight of ex-new Labour faces in the PLP. If they cannot be won around then Miliband should ignore them and leave them to plan their plots in whatever supermarket headquarters they are based.

  • AlanGiles

    I wouldn’t hold up the white flag just yet, considering that Clegg is now embroiled in the Lord Rennard scandal (though I do think it is a bit rich of Labour’s spokesperson for women to call for a “public enquiry” into his behaviour – why didn’t they demand one in the cases of lay-preacher Blunkett, John Prescott and Byers, for example?), Cameron and Osborne are as popular as a wickerworkchair in a nudist camp. I see some Labour supporters want UKIP to win! (perhaps me standing as “Independent Keep Alexandr For Compare The Meerkat” candidate wouldn’t have been such a bad idea.

    It will be interesting on Friday morning. If Labour don’t do very well, let us hope that they have kept a transcript of every speech every visiting Labour politician has made in Eastleigh. Then they can count up how many times the fatuous terms “One Nation” has been used. That might then convince the party that the public regard “1N” as risible and unattainable as Cameron’s “Big Society”.

    But lets wait and see. Or watch and pray, as Father Blair might say :-)

    • NT86

      Wanting a UKIP win is hardly a dent on Labour’s reputation in a seat where their vote share was awful in 2010. UKIP would be the nightmare scenario for the coalition. The Lib Dems would lose an important constituency and the Tories would be sent into disarray.

      Plus at least they seem to have something different to say. Think you’ll that find that many people (including non-Tory voters) are dreading the prospect of January 2014 when the gates are opened for yet more cheap labour from Eastern Europe.

      • Dave Postles

        UKIP will be a nightmare scenario full stop.

      • AlanGiles

        I think, with all due respect, this is taking “party games” to the limit. It’s a sort of “If I can’t have him, nobody will” sort of attitude.

        I get taken to task on here for saying I find some aspects of the Green Party attractive (not everything but some), at least the Greens is a left of centre party, which can hardly be said of UKIP.!

        • aracataca

          Surely what you mean to say is that some sections of the Green Party are left of centre. For example, if you are referring to Green Left, Romayne Phoenix or the committed anti- fascist Peter Cranie then yes those individuals are left of centre.

          However, if you’re referring to the current leadership of The Green Party then I would dispute that they are left of centre. Is Pippa Bartolotti ‘left of centre’ for instance? You will of course also know Alan that their record in government across the sea in the Irish Republic could not be described as left of centre and that much of the current leadership have called for the party to adopt the kind of politics hitherto adopted by the Fib Dems. To describe the entire party as ‘left of centre’ is therefore self evidently just plain wrong.

          • AlanGiles

            Whatever

          • aracataca

            Sorry Alan does ‘whatever’ here mean ‘yes you’re right’ or ‘it doesn’t matter if I say the Green Party is a ‘left of centre party when large sections of it (including the current leadership) clearly aren’t’?
            Many thanks in advance for your clarification.

          • AlanGiles

            It means, I can’t be bothered to play your asinine little games, Bill

          • aracataca

            I don’t think it is that asinine because the issue here is whether or not The Green Party is left of centre. I think there is a case for saying that it isn’t although the left wing credentials of some of its activists are beyond question. NB Peter Cranie’s fantastic anti BNP work in Merseyside. Of course the current leadership (notably Bennett and Lucas) has remorselessly attacked these people and the Green Left grouping in particular.

    • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

      “Labour supporters want UKIP to win!”

      Just when you think you’ve seen it all… If ever evidence were needed of an inability to think, this must surely be it.

      • aracataca

        True to form you’ve omitted the word ‘some’ here.Of course it’s a tiny, tiny minority of Labour supporters who want UKIP to win, but hey, why let that get in the way of a ludicrous sweeping generalisation?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          I afraid you’re responding to a ” ludicrous sweeping generalisation” I haven’t made. I’m clearly referring only to the unthinking Labour supporters who want UKIP to win. This should’ve been obvious to you – had you stopped to think before hitting the keyboard.

          • aracataca

            Thanks for clarifying that not all or even many Labour supporters want UKIP to win.

          • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

            Delighted to be able to assist you on the pathway to clarity. Keep on going.

  • Redshift1

    But voting in a Lib Dem MP is a vote for the Tories. They are propping them up!

    If I were living in Easleigh in 2010, the tactical vote would be convincing. Now, I’d be proudly voting Labour.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Cynics would say this article exists to give some useful quotes to the Lib Dems final target letter to Labour voters on Wednesday to say: “The influential Labour list website says Labour Can’t win”. However I am assuming that Labourl ist’s defense will be that it is ‘independent’. ‘Journalistic values’ presumably trump the situation that if this was a Labour MP saying all this, some people would be saying they were being very disloyal and if someone wanted to say this there are completely non-Labour blogs or the Comment is Free section of the Guardian for this. What this article in LabourList shows that in around 40 Lib Dem seats where Labour is third, we will face exactly same problem in the 2015 election. Then we will have not just Guardian commentators and some Labour MP’s (and no doubt Compass) telling Labour voters ‘to hold your nose and vote Lib Dem in those seats. You have all been warned!:) Perhaps Labourlist could set out how it will deal with this sort of issue in the run up to 2015. If it does choose to continue publishing articles like this, perhaps it should at the same time commission a countervaling article? However that won’t of course stop Focus Teams quoting ‘the influential Labour List website’!!

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