Did Labour miscalculate ex-LibDem voters in Eastleigh?

27th February, 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.

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