Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of all the weekend’s news (18 Feb)

by Stephen Tall on February 18, 2013

The penultimate weekend’s campaigning was frenetic at the Lib Dems’ Eastleigh HQ…

Over 530 Lib Dem volunteers passed through its doors in just this weekend (to add to the 1,000+ who’d visited in the previous week). Visitors included an upbeat Nick Clegg (BBC report and video here) and others — as this video shows:

>> A reminder of how to get to Eastleigh in person.

But activity isn’t limited only to those able to get to Eastleigh. The party’s virtual phone bank has been enabling Lib Dems around the country to join in getting Mike Thornton elected:

>> A reminder of how you can get phoning for Mike from the comfort of your arm-chair.

And there is another option available to help, too:

>> A reminder of how you can make a donation to boost the Eastleigh campaign.

The Tories’ campaign stumbles…

lib-dem-eastleigh-education-600pxThe Tory candidate Maria Hutchings ran into trouble on Saturday for her comment that it was “impossible” for her gifted child to get a good enough education in the state system. As I blogged on Saturday: So this is why the Tories have been trying to keep their Eastleigh candidate quiet (click on image, right, to enlarge).

‘My son can’t go to state school… he wants to be a surgeon!’ Outrage over ‘snobbery’ of by-election candidate (Daily Mail)
Maria Hutchings, the Tory candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, has been hit by a storm of criticism after she seemed to suggest her 12-year-old son, who has ambitions to become a surgeon, was too clever for state schools.

Tory Eastleigh candidate angers doctors with state school comment (The Guardian)
The Conservatives have been forced on to the defensive in Eastleigh byelection campaign after doctors signed a letter condemning its candidate for suggesting the local state schools were not good enough for her son who wanted to become a surgeon.

And the Tory campaign wasn’t helped much either by some rather over-assiduous centralised instructions from Tory HQ:

Tory Twitter ‘lemmings’ backfire with Eastleigh byelection message: Spate of identical tweets on housing policy bring accusations that Tories still grappling with subtleties of digital campaigning (The Guardian)eastleigh tory twitter lemmings
After a bumpy start to their byelection campaign, which saw their candidate claim state schools were not good enough for her son, it appeared the Tory party was back “on message” with a vengeance in Eastleigh on Sunday. A spate of statements from party activists and MPs, including Robert Halfon and Nadhim Zahawi, appeared on Twitter just before 2pm attacking the Liberal Democrats over housing policy. Each tweet was identical – “The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign in turmoil as Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces” – and the social networking site was soon abuzz with users claiming the episode was orchestrated from Tory central command and proof that some in the party were still struggling with the subtleties of campaigning in the digital age.

Labour’s O’Farell haunted by old comments

As I’ve already said, I’m a big fan of John O’Farrell’s book Things Can Only Get Better, an honest and funny look at Labour’s 18 years in opposition. It and he are also deeply tribal, however, so it’s no surprise really that journalists have found parts which are wince-worthy:

Fury over ‘moral reprobate’ Labour candidate who wrote of disappointment that Mrs Thatcher didn’t die in the Brighton bomb (Daily Mail)
The Labour candidate in the crucial Eastleigh by-election said he wished Margaret Thatcher had been murdered in the IRA attack on Brighton’s Grand Hotel. Left-winger John O’Farrell felt a ‘surge of excitement’ when he heard of the attempted assassination in 1984 and was ‘disappointed’ the terrorists failed. He asked himself repeatedly: ‘Why did she have to leave the bathroom two minutes earlier?’ The bathroom of Lady Thatcher’s suite was wrecked in the explosion. She had been in it shortly before the bomb went off. The comments made by Mr O’Farrell, a comedian who wrote gags for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, appear in his book about his support for Labour, entitled Things Can Only Get Better.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan defended Mr O’Farrell: “Some of it is in bad taste and should not have been said, but he was writing a book that was at the time, very funny, very witty.” Which is fair enough — we really don’t want a politics where no candidate is ever allowed to have said something offensive.

What the bookies say

The Lib Dems are the 1/2 favourites to win, according to Bet365; the Tories are in second place at odds of 7/4. Meanwhile PoliticalBetting is tipping the Lib Dems to increase the party’s majority from 2010, and for Ukip to beat Labour into third place.

We’ll see. There’s a long way to go yet.

This is the fifth of my round-ups of news from Eastleigh. Here are the first four:

And you can read my Co-Editor Mark Pack’s rounds-up on his site here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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