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Friday, March 01, 2013

Liberal Democrats victory offers hope for future

The Liberal Democrats vivtory in the Eastleigh by-election was a huge relief for me and the thousands of activists who worked so hard to ensure that Mike Thornton succeeded Chris Huhne as the local MP. It was the most difficult by-election I have ever been involved in not least because of the circumstances that led to it being called, but also because of the dreadful headlines over the last week and the turmoil in the party they generated.

What is important about this victory is that it shows that the Liberal Democrats cannot be easily written off despite the best efforts of our opponents. We showed that we can still win difficult by-elections and that we can do so whilst in government. It will not be easy to prise us out of our strongholds in 2015 and if the economy shows signs of recovery at that time we may even do better than hold our own.

It was a good by-election for UKIP as well. They harvested the protest votes that have benefited the Liberal Democrats in the past, but they did not have the ground campaign to capitalise properly. That will prove their weakness as they seek to win in other elections outside of next year's Europeans.

For Labour and the Tories, it was a disaster. The Conservatives saw themselves beated into third place by UKIP in a seat that by rights they should have won. It was a verdict on Cameron but more so on the quality of their candidate. However, there are now huge doubts that the Tories can ever do enough to win an overall majority in 2015. The pressure on Cameron internally will increase and that will impact even more on his party's electability.

The real loser however was Ed Miliband and Labour. Excuses that this is not natural Labour territory will not wash. The fact is that Labour came a good second in1994 and given the economic situation and the problems faced by the two governing parties, they should have done much better.

Labour's poor performance suggests that the current polls flatter them. Do they have what it takes to win the next election? Is Ed Miliband seen as a potential Prime Minister? This result suggests that the answer is no. If Labour is going to win the next election they should have won Eastleigh. They were not even close. It really is all to play for in 2015.
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