And yes, told by idiots. Such is the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election this morning. The media are, of course, jumping with the news that the Conservatives trailed in in a disappointing third place. The business end of the result looks something like this, on a turnout of 52.7% (down form 69.3 in 2010):
It really makes poor reading for most of them.
For the LibDems comes the consolation of winning the seat. But their vote has dropped by a third in almost as safe a seat as they can comfortably hope for, with an almost blanket coverage of local councillors. Tellingly, the winning candidate apparently spoke little about national issues during his campaign, choosing to concentrate on local matters. But the national issues which dog Clegg and his party, and are not going to magically vanish, didn’t make things catastrophic at very least. Some are choosing this to see this as a hopeful sign that they are not toast come 2015. The Guardian point out the local nature of the victory, saying that they have a chance where their local organisation is good. But that should send a chill through Clegg’s heart. If the local elections of recent times have shown anything, it’s that LibDem activism and local networks are dying as they have haemorrhaged support. In vast parts of the country they might struggle badly. That may become evident in May.
for UKIP things look peachy. But. This is a by-election. Come polling day in 2015, how many people will look at a UKIP candidate and think of the smug, oh-so-punchable face of Nigel Farrage as they mark their paper in the box. However much he preens on the news media today, this doesn’t ring true as a sea change. Just ask Shirley Williams about Hillhead.
Labour can shrug their shoulders and move on. Their share of the vote barely even changed. They were never ever going to be competitive: emailing party members pre-campaign and asking for volunteers to stand as a candidate tells you all you need to know. The Millbot spent most of polling day in…Crewe. So, there you are.
For the Conservatives, things are superficially grim, but not as grim as some are painting. They too lost a third of their vote. And trailing in behind UKIP in a place they may have expected to be competitive is a humiliation. But how many of UKIP’s votes came direct from the Conservative candidate, and how many from the LibDems is a more tricky one to answer. They are deeply unpopular to be sure, but still had a quarter of the total vote.
The most worrying part is that even a carpet bombing campaign by all of them only resulted in a 52.7 turnout and, by the end, an electorate who were openly hostile to campaigning. In the end, this is just a by-election, and means little in the great scheme of things. In six weeks, no-one outside Eastleigh will even remember who the MP is, or care less. What will be more interesting is the aftermath of local elections in May, after the first Universal Credit changes happen, new council budgets and cuts become concrete, and another month of economic figures and fuel prices rises bite. If David Cameron thinks things are grim now, they are only going to get worse.