Eastleigh by-election: your essential round-up of the latest campaign news (28 Feb Polling Day Edition!)

by Stephen Tall on February 28, 2013

Welcome to the final round-up of the Eastleigh by-election campaign…


It was the week when Mike Thornton’s campaign received a boost from former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown on Tuesday:

Then yesterday as Nick Clegg made his final visit of the campaign:

This was the message last night from party president Tim Farron:

ld_eastleigh_good morningAnd this was the scene in the Eastleigh HQ a couple of hours ago, as Lib Dems began delivering ‘Good morning!’ leaflets to those voters the party’s been canvassing the past three weeks, and working hard for over the past two or more decades.

For those who’ve never been involved in a polling day operation, today is the day the focus shifts from talking to as many voters as possible towards ensuring you ‘Get Out The Vote’ you’ve identified over the past few weeks of canvassing. That’s done by delivering leaflets — despite everything, campaigners are constantly amazed how many voters will respond on polling day, “Oh, is it today then?” — knocking on doors, and by phoning people to remind them that their vote matters today.

ld_eastleigh_pubAnd that support can be found in some pretty unlikely places…

It’s not too late to help — here’s a reminder of how you can help Mike Thornton’s campaign:

Tomorrow morning will be too late. There has rarely been a more important by-election for the party. It’s up to us whether we remember it for the right reasons or not…

What the papers say

It’s not been the easiest few days for the Lib Dem campaign, with the backdrop of the allegations about Chris Rennard’s conduct. But it’s hard to disagree with this assessment by Steve Richards in the Independent:

Everyone’s a winner if the Lib Dems win Eastleigh
…if the Lib Dems hold Eastleigh, Clegg will move significantly further away from the cliff’s edge. In spite of the Rennard furore and his party’s association with a dismal economic situation, the Lib Dems would have held a seat, showing that in areas where they are already strong they can still win. Clegg’s MPs would relax a little. If they can hold a constituency where the former sitting MP faces jail, they might be able to retain their seats at the next election. Clegg’s authority would be enhanced, his strategy of projecting his party as a governing force would have received a degree of vindication.

And IF the Tories lose…

Let’s take nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, for granted… But if the Tories lose to the Lib Dems today’s papers hold a hint of the backlash David Cameron can expect:

Eastleigh by-election: David Cameron has the most to lose (Telegraph)
With less than 24 hours before polls open in Eastleigh, I still haven’t spoken to a single Conservative who thinks their party is going to win tomorrow. Of course, we have to be wary of by-election expectations management, but as far as I can tell, Tory bets really are on a Lib Dem hold tomorrow night. Isn’t that a remarkable state of affairs?

Eastleigh flop would be a crisis for David Cameron, top Tory warns (Guardian)
Eleven of the Tories’ top 43 target seats are held by the Lib Dems, and senior Conservatives are preparing for a bitter inquest if they fail to capture Eastleigh. [David] Davis said: “I think if we came third it would be a crisis, I think that’s the case, and if it’s a close second with Ukip on our tail it will also be uncomfortable.” He insisted neither result would dislodge Cameron. “He’s going to be there till the next election, but the simple truth is that it will make things more uncomfortable in the House of Commons.” Nick Clegg, campaigning in Eastleigh, insisted the Lib Dems were on the “cusp of a great, great victory” for their candidate, local councillor Mike Thornton.

Will Eastleigh be beastly for PM? David Cameron warned of “crisis” if Tories come third (Mirror)
David Cameron has been warned his leadership will be thrown into “crisis” if the Tories are trounced in today’s Eastleigh by-election. The party has been rocked by a late UKIP surge in the bitterly fought contest. The Lib Dems now look set to retain the seat despite the departure of shamed MP Chris Huhne, caused the by-election by quitting.

However, let’s also be wary of reading too much into a by-election of how ‘the voters’ (as if they are a single bloc!) think about politics, as Matthew d’Ancona astutely pointed out:

Eastleigh will be won on local issues not national politics
In the words of one Lib-Dem Cabinet minister, the next general election will be “650 by-elections”. Whoever wins tomorrow, the lesson of this battle is already clear. The result will not really be a verdict on Osborne’s Plan A, or the sexual morality of the Lib-Dems, or Ed Miliband’s latest performance at PMQs. The Eastleigh contest has shown that, in every sense, the future of politics is local. The path to power passes straight through the gravel pit.

But what about Ukip?

Michael Crick’s speculative tweet on Tuesday has triggered predictions of a huge potential upset…

…with his Channel 4 colleague Gary Gibbon writing:

Eastleigh could yet turn out to be an anti-establishment voter outburst, a home counties version of the Bradford West by-election last year that saw George Galloway returned to parliament.

This has got short shrift from the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers, who constructed his own ‘poll of polls’ conducted during the campaign:

Eastleigh by-election: sorry, but Ukip aren’t going to win
The Lib Dems and the Tories average out on 32.4 per cent and 31.2 per cent respectively. That actually is too close to call with confidence, especially using the shoddy jerry-built approach to statistics I’ve been using here. But, and I’m sorry to be boring, that shoddy jerry-built approach is easily good enough to say that Ukip almost certainly aren’t going to win. This isn’t an anti-Ukip thing, I promise (for that, go here). It’s just a reminder that while “taking the temperature” of a constituency by getting down on the ground and meeting real people and generally doing the old-school political thing is a good starting point, it isn’t as useful an indicator as actual polls. Of course, if Ukip go on and win this now, I’ll look pretty bloody silly, but that’s the risk you take.

Although one of the pollsters, Survation, is hedging its bets a bit:

UKIP are within touching distance of second place, and with reports from Eastleigh suggesting their ground game has been surprisingly organised, it is conceivable that they will pass at least one of the two main parties by polling day.

Survation also shrewdly notes the importance of postal votes in this campaign:

The large number of expected postal votes may also give the Lib Dems an advantage, enabling their superior ground game to ‘lock in’ a large number of votes before polling day. 14,267 postal votes have been issued in this by-election, up from 12,644 in 2010, and nearly two thirds of them have already been returned. This high proportion of postal ballots also reduces the chance for last minute events to influence the outcome of the election.

And finally…

Speaking of bets, here are the latest odds:

This is the tenth and final round-up of news from Eastleigh:

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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