So, the Eastleigh by-election is over, and after all of that campaigning, polling, and analysis, the status quo is maintained with a Liberal Democrat hold. Of course, there was more to it than that, most notably the huge UKIP vote, and the implications of this for David Cameron and his Conservative party.
What should we now be looking for? Yesterday’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times confirmed my initial thoughts- we would see the UKIP vote in double figures, after it seemed that they had fallen into high single figures for most of February. They are back ahead of the Lib Dems, so there is no bounce so far for Clegg’s party after their good by-election win.
Whilst UKIP seemed to take votes from all three major parties in Eastleigh, it seems that the national picture is different. There is a huge disparity in the votes that UKIP are taking from the Conservatives in this poll, compared to Labour and the Lib Dems. 17% of 2010 Conservative voters are now planning to vote UKIP at the next election, whilst just 4% of 2010 Labour voters and 5% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to do the same. The overall Conservative vote retention is just 74%- and they are not making up anywhere near enough from Labour or Lib Dem voters to be even close to improving their position from the last election.
Labour will be cautiously happy with their position. They are retaining 90% of their 2010 vote, and attracting a huge 39% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. Less significantly, they are also taking 6% of 2010 Tories. Some may say that Labour should be doing better in this regard- however it is important to remember that even in 1997, the Conservatives received 31% of the vote- there is only so much of the vote that Labour can eat into. In 2010 the Tories only did 5% better than their 1997 humiliation- it is the centre-left vote that has split, and this is the area that Labour have to be looking to improve.
Leading on from this point is the obviously dire situation of the Lib Dems. Eastleigh showed that they may still be able to hold seats at a local level- however talk of taking Tory held seats was in my opinion misguided- 2015 is going to be an election of survival for the Liberal Democrats, and I would be stunned if they made any gains at all. They are retaining just 40% of their 2010 vote- showing perhaps how much of their vote was either a protest, tactical, or disgruntled ex-Labour voters now willing to return due to the current scenario of a Conservative-led government. The Lib Dems core is probably around 10%- I think they may poll a few percentage points higher due to tactical voting when the election actually happens, but it seems that it is set for this to be the worst result for the yellows in a generation.
We are still over two years away from the general election- it is perfectly possible that ‘events’ could intervene, and change the fortunes of the Conservatives- or even the Lib Dems. It is my personal opinion that Labour’s vote is not as soft as some seem to suggest- add this to the fact that they do not need the same kind of vote percentage as the Conservatives to achieve an outright win- I think we are heading for a Labour majority between around 30 and 50. Let’s see what future polling and the local elections bring in May- we are starting to reach the endgame, and the Coalition needs to start thinking about what strategy they are going to use.