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Eastleigh Election .....who will win.?

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Eastleigh Election .....who will win.?

Post  Panda on Wed 13 Feb - 18:00

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Iain Martin

Iain Martin is one of Britain's leading political commentators. A former editor of The Scotsman and deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph, he's currently writing a book about the financial crisis. As well as this blog, he writes a column for The Sunday Telegraph. You can read more about Iain at iainmartinpolitics.com.

Labour choosing John O'Farrell for Eastleigh means a good by-election just got even more intriguing

By Iain MartinPoliticsLast updated: February 13th, 2013
397 CommentsComment on this article

The Eastleigh by-election is shaping up to be tremendous fun. Not for the people of Eastleigh, perhaps, but for political journalists and visiting TV crews the battle in Huhne’s former seat definitely looks as though it will be the gift that keeps on giving. The whole business is rich with comic potential, beginning with the Lib Dems needing to present themselves locally as the only force that can keep the Tories out. That is, the Tories they put in government in 2010.
Fittingly, Labour's has chosen a gag-writer as its candidate. John O'Farrell is a very smart choice. He has a sense of humour about politics and just the right attitude to do well in the madness of a modern by-election campaign. O'Farrell is a Labour loyalist who isn't a bland, spun creation of party HQ. On being selected on Tuesday evening he tweeted that he was off to the pub with his supporters. On Wednesday morning he said that the campaign team had kept him so busy he didn't make it to the pub: "I've already broken my first promise."
O'Farrell seems to grasp that authenticity is the new "spin". As the rise of Boris shows, voters have seen through the ghastly pre-packaged, strictly controlled, marketed form of politics that became so popular after Bill Clinton won in 1992. Tony Blair and friends copied and perfected the techniques. Still, O'Farrell – who wrote gags for Blair and Gordon Brown (what a thought) – will need more than jokes to do well in what promises to be a humdinger of a contest.
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem party president, says that so far the contest on the ground has all been pretty good-natured. This surely cannot last, because somewhat unusually for a by-election a lot is at stake for all of the parties. This is why cabinet ministers from both coalition parties are already piling in. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, each need, to varying degrees, a win. All three will visit Eastleigh.
If the Lib Dems do somehow manage to hold the seat, and they seem to be favourites, it will be a remarkable achievement. The party would have proved that despite the national polls it can still fight and hold on to seats where it is well dug-in with councillors and local campaigning machinery. Nick Clegg’s party could then start to think in terms of having weathered the worst, after the betrayal on tuition fees (in which he signed up in an election to a pledge he knew was not credible). After a victory, Clegg’s chances of leading his party into the next election – something which strikes me as a bizarre notion, but which the Deputy Prime Minister now seems set on – would be enhanced.
Lose and the questions about the future of Clegg's leadership return the morning after Eastleigh. A Tory victory is also a great prize for David Cameron. If the Tories can win in Eastleigh, with the economy in the doldrums, then it is game on for the 2015 general election. Fail to win, in a Lib Dem seat of the kind the Conservatives have to take if they are to stand a chance of forming the next government, and the sense will only grow that Cameron, behind in the polls, is running out of time and options.
The metropolitan media view seems to be that the Tory candidate is a potential obstacle. Have they chosen someone who may blow-up the party’s campaign? Not sure. Much as I accept that there is a possibility of that being the case, and a gaffe mid-campaign could lead to an unravelling, it is also possible that Maria Hutchings turns out to be straight-talking in a way that steals votes from Ukip and builds support. There is simply no way of knowing until the candidate is tested in the heat of battle. And the presence of the national media will ensure it gets very hot indeed, for all of the candidates.
A lot rests on O'Farrell and Labour. If the Opposition puts up a decent fight – which a “government-in-waiting” really should be capable of doing, up against a coalition with serious problems – it will probably erode the Lib Dem vote. This could actually give the seat to the Tories. But Miliband should be aiming higher than running the coalition parties close, if he wants to prove that he is making real progress. A leader serious about winning power should be able to upend expectations and defy precedent in contests such as this. A shock win would demoralise his Tory and Lib Dem opponents and mark an important step on what he hopes will be the road to Number 10.
And Ukip? Well if the country is really, as the party's supporters say, rampantly angry, uncontrollably furious and beside itself with indignation at diktat from Brussels and the actions of its political class, then Ukip must be on the verge of some sort of breakthrough that will show up in the result in Eastleigh. If not, what's the excuse this time?
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Tags: Conservatives, David Cameron, Eastleigh by-election, Ed Miliband, labour, Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, UKIP

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