Sunday, 10 February 2013

Battleground Eastleigh..

The long-anticipated and widely-expected fall of Chris Huhne last week has triggered a by-election in the Hampshire Constituency of Eastleigh which the Liberal Democrats first won at a by-election in 1994 and have held ever since.

Chris Huhne, let's be honest about it, has been an idiot. It's bad enough to ask your wife (allegedly) to take the points for your speeding but then to dump her publicly and expect her to continue the deception seems to stretch credibility well beyond breaking point. As the week has gone on, the depth of Huhne's arrogance and mendacity has become all too obvious. He comes across as a spectacularly self-absorbed and arrogant man but it may just be the case that those qualities are pretty important and valuable in the world of modern politics.

I think the unpalatable truth is that if we want to be governed by saints, we might not get governed well. Being governed by sinners is probably better Government but it's less attractive. Huhne comes over as an unpleasant individual but that doesn't make him a bad politician. In fact, it probably makes him a good one.

As for Eastleigh, the Liberal Democrats face a tough defence. The circumstances are bad, the national polling situation poor and unlike other contests the Party has to defend a record in Government. Despite that, one poll showed the Party only 3% behind in Eastleigh while another shows the Party 3% ahjead which would be remarkable. The Party has lost support but so too have the challenging Conservatives who have gone into bellicose overdrive in the political blogsphere this weekend. Their candidate, Maria Hutchings, is not without her issues and with the election just two and a half weeks away, it is a titanic clash between a strong entrenched local organisation and an invading army of buoyed-up activists.

I pity the voters of Eastleigh who are at the eye of this particular storm.

As Mike Smithson on has correctly opined, the question is whether the Liberal Democrats can get the vote out they are capable of getting in local elections (47% across the constituency in the 2012 local elections). If they can, they will hold the seat. They may also be aided by the presence of a strong UKIP candidate who will take votes off the Conservatives.

Either way, it promises to be a crucial and critical contest. Most Liberal Democrats have had to go through a baptism of by-election fire - Paddy Ashdown had Eastbourne, Charles Kennedy had Romsey and Menzies Campbell had Dunfermline West. IF the Party can hold Eastleigh, it will build confidence and restore the leadership of Nick Clegg. The Tories will doubtless throw everything they have at the seat and the vestigial impact of that will be to further undermine the Coalition.

I don't know how it will go but the partisan hacks will have a field day and that perhaps is the most dispiriting part of the whole process.

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