Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The Eastleigh by-election maintained a Liberal Democrat seat, whilst elevating UKIP to second place, and demoting the Conservative Party to third place. There were 41,616 votes cast, which is 52.68% of the electorate, a sharp decrease of 16.61 percentage points on the 2010 General Election. The full results are:
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 13,342 (32.06%, -14.48%)
Diane James (UKIP) 11,571 (27.80%, +24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 10,559 (25.37%, -13.96%)
John O’Farrell (Labour) 4,088 (9.82%, +0.22%)
Danny Stupple (Independent) 768 (1.85%, +1.56%)
Dr Iain Maclennan (National Health Action) 392 (0.94%)
Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet) 235 (0.56%)
Kevin Milburn (Christian) 163 (0.39%)
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony) 136 (0.33%)
Jim Duggan (Peace) 128 (0.31%)
David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 72 (0.17%)
Michael Walters (English Democrats) 70 (0.17%, -0.30%)
Darren Procter (TUSC) 62 (0.15%)
Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalists) 30 (0.07%)
The Conservative Party had the best retention of the three main parties from 2010, where 59% of 2010 Conservative voters ventured to the polling booths for Maria Hutchings again in 2013. In comparison, Liberal Democrats retained 53% of their General Election voters, and Labour kept 50%. The surge to UKIP came principally from the Conservatives, with 22% of their 2010 voters. However, they swept across the political board, obtaining 19% of 2010 Liberal Democrats and 17% of 2010 Labour supporters. Thus, 42% of UKIP by-election voters did not lend their support to any of the three main parties in the last General Election. This UKIP surge occurred late in the by-election campaign, as 55% of their support came in the final week.
A major source of debate following the Eastleigh by-election is the reason for the ascendance of UKIP, and the potential consequences it has for the Conservatives. 83% of UKIP voters said that their vote is ‘a message that I’m unhappy with the party I support nationally’, and 75% said it was ‘a general protest to show that I’m unhappy with all the main parties at the moment’. In contrast; at 85%, the most common reason for supporting the Liberal Democrats was ‘they had the best candidate locally’. 93% of Labour voters and 83% of Conservatives said they voted that way because ‘they are the party I’d like to win the next election nationally’. Conservatives were the most likely to say ‘they had the best leader nationally’.
The next question asked what the most important issue that determined the choice of party, and responders were not prompted into particular answers. 26% of Liberal Democrats said the local council and services were the most important issue, whilst Conservative and Labour voters hummed a cacophony of issues they individually deemed the “most important”. However, the reasoning behind UKIP votes were vastly concentrated in ‘immigration/asylum seekers/migrants/travellers’ and ‘Europe/EU/Human Rights’, with 55% and 31% of their voters respectively.
Finally, when asked which party they are likely to support at the next General Election in 2015, 21% of respondents said the Conservatives, compared to 15% supporting the Liberal Democrats and Labour each and only 10% would walk into a polling booth and select the UKIP candidate. As expected, 34% said they didn’t know.
(Video thanks to ukipmedia.)
UKIP leader Nigel Farage protests that UKIP has gained votes “on policy”, but it is clear that a major proportion of UKIP’s vote stemmed from political discontentment. 42% of their voters did not back any of the three main parties in 2010, but 83% said it was a protest vote, means that their irritation is not merely temporary, though those voters may still identify with particular parties. UKIP candidate Diane James appeared to be very successful in gaining votes from across the political spectrum, but also from the significant anti-political spectrum that exists with Britain. The expected voter retention for the 2015 General Election for both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats is low, at 43% each, compared to 73% of Conservatives being consistent and 83% of sticky Labour voters.
These projections may change as we creep onto that election, so the Liberal Democrats may be able to build a firm political fortress on local concerns. Their preservation of Eastleigh, especially in the twin storms of former MP Christopher Huhne’s guilty plea and allegations against Lord Rennard, will heighten their belief such a fortress can be constructed.
Labour’s performance, on contemplation, must be disappointing. Ed Miliband has made a great furore about his party being the only ‘One Nation’ political party, meaning they represent the country’s broad interests, as opposed to Labour’s belief that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is serving incumbent powerful interests. Labour had an incremental increase in their vote share; when in the previous Eastleigh by-election in 1994, Labour finished in second place despite having no leader.
Prior to the by-election, former candidate for Conservative Party leader, David Davis MP 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.” This crisis must not consume the Conservatives in a maelstrom of panic, particularly with calls for the party to align its platform with UKIP. A party of government cannot mimic a party of protest.