UK & World News

  • 24 February 2013, 3:17

Eastleigh: Coalition Candidates Battle It Out

Let's face facts: most by elections don't matter.

Candidates campaign, votes are counted and the result is roundly ignored by pretty much everyone outside of the constituency.

But Eastleigh is different.

Not only is its last MP facing a jail sentence, but it's the first by-election to pitch both halves of the Coalition against each other.

The main reason it counts, though, is because it is a test of tactics before the 2015 general election.

With Ed Miliband gaining in confidence, Conservative backbenchers have comforted themselves that they should be able to hoover up seats from their beleaguered Coalition partners.

To get a majority their strategy involves taking around 20 seats from the Lib Dems - seats like Eastleigh, which is 15th on their target list.

That's why there's been a steady stream of Conservatives - frontbenchers and backbenchers - driving down the M3 to an old railway town.

As one MP put it to me: "This is our chance to really stick it to the Lib Dems - we haven't forgotten what they did over the boundaries vote. That's why I'm getting my **** down to Eastleigh."

But the initial confidence and bombast has given way to concern.

The Lib Dems are far more entrenched in Eastleigh than they were given credit for - with a raft of local councillors, hundreds of campaigners and a stack of detailed information on local voters.

Now the bookies odds give Nick Clegg's party the advantage.

It remains tight between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems and is still too close to call.

But whichever party loses - it will send ripples through the Coalition.

:: A Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday suggests the by-election could be too close to call. The survey puts the Conservatives ahead on 33% the Liberal Democrats 29% , UKIP on 21%, while Labour are in fourth place with 13%.

The figures reverse recent findings that suggested the Lib Dems would narrowly retain the seat vacated by disgraced former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

However, the advantages are within the pollsters' margin for error - suggesting with less than a week left the contest is going to the wire.

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