FT: Tories face “tough battle” to oust Chris Huhne in Eastleigh

by Stephen Tall on February 8, 2010

As the Financial Times notes of the battle to win the Lib Dem / Tory marginal of Eastleigh:

The Hampshire railway town is 11th on Mr Cameron’s target list; the Liberal Democrats’ majority of a little more than 500 should be easily within reach.

But is it really?

… the Tories are by no means certain to win Eastleigh. Lib Dem strategists believe Chris Huhne, the sitting MP, will easily hold the seat – a view privately shared by some Conservatives. …

Eastleigh is the kind of seat that defies the traditional “swingometer”. Like many Lib Dem MPs, Mr Huhne has dug in, building a reputation in the national media and as a local campaigner. He says he has dealt with 13,000 pieces of casework since the last election. “I might not always be able to help, but people know I’ve tried,” he says. The party has a ruthless local organisation and almost complete control of the local council – a factor often underestimated by the national media.

Mr Huhne argues that the absence of a strong local Conservative councillor base in his constituency seriously reduces their ability to campaign on the ground. “There is only so much you can do with an air war,” he says, referring to national media campaigns.

I’m on the record as saying I will eat my hat – and it’s a very nice hat – if Chris doesn’t retain Eastleigh. The FT mentions Chris’s strong campaigning record, and the Lib Dems’ sustained record of success on the council (one of the few Lib Dem groups to continue to make gains even when running the council). Add to that the first-time incumbency bounce Chris should achieve – not least thanks to those 13,000 pieces of casework – and it would be a brave person who bet against the chances of the two-time leadership challenger.