My first response to most elections, and especially by-elections, is sonewhere along the lines of "Thank God that's over" but I will dwell for a while on yesterday's events and what they may mean for the British political landscape going forward.
That's the result if you don't already know it and some fairly simplistic analysis which you don't need. First, I have to pay tribute to a magnificent ground operation led by Eastleigh Liberal Democrats aided and abetted by the experienced campaigners of Portsmouth, Winchester, Romsey and elsewhere and of course the excellent Mike Thornton, who endured the media onslaught with aplomb and campaigned hard on local issues.
After the sustained battering (of which more later) the Party has received from the hostile media and the partisan blogsphere and partisan Twitter accounts, the result is more than encouraging. Yes, the vote share fell a lot but nationally the Party is currently about as popular as bubonic plague owing to a combination of self-inflicted wounds and having to be a part of a Coalition Government trying desperately to re-build the economy and public finances so wilfully trashed by Labour.
This was another by-election yesterday - in Berrylands Ward on Kingston Borough Council in south-west London. Like Eastleigh, Berrylands is a closely-fought Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginal (a split three-member Ward with two Liberal Democrats and one Conservative elected in 2010) and here again the recent travails of the Liberal Democrats might have afforded the Conservatives the opportunity to capture the seat, In the end, not only did the Tories fail, they actually lost ground.
So, back to Eastleigh and the battered Liberal Democrats can go to the Spring Conference at Brighton in buoyant mood hoping the worst of the storm has passed and that the Party can build on its many positive achievements both nationally and locally.
UKIP finished a strong second in Eastleigh and this morning as much of the coverage has been about them as it has about the victors and the other vanquished parties. In truth, strong though this performance was, it confirms my view that UKIP are essentially now where the Liberal Party was in the mid-1950s but without the Celtic heartland to fall back on. Last night's result doesn't suggest UKIP will win a seat at a General Election but what it does confirm is that they are able to mobilise enough resources to fight a strong by-election campaign despite not only David Cameron's pledge of a referendum on EU membership (which few believe he will honour if he wins a majority in 2015) and the much less well publicised but more interesting news that net migration has fallen by a third since 2010. Most surveys suggest immigration, rather than Europe, is the main focus for UKIP supporters and it seems UKIP is now in effect the Conservative Party that Enoch Powell would have led had he ever become Party leader.
For David Cameron's Conservatives, the result is plain awful. Days of friendly media undermining the Liberal Democrats achieved nothing. In a seat they considered enough of a possibility to campaign hard in both 2005 and 2010, their vote share slumped alarmingly. They seemed to have little or nothing on the ground with which to work and while they might have expected, at the start of the campaign, to either win or be a close second, they finished up further behind than before.
Cameron, as other Prime Ministers before him, may dismiss this as a "mid-term protest vote" and it remains to be seen how much of the UKIP vote will remain come a General Election when there will be no UKIP Government on offer but, for the average UKIP supporter, a selection of unpalatable alternatives.
For all the weasel words in the Conservative blogsphere about how bad a result this was for Labour this morning, it is of course anything but. Yes, Labour would have liked to have seen a stronger performance in Eastleigh but look at Berrylands and you see a sense of a real recovery in Labour;s fortunes in parts of the south. Indeed, I would argue that in Berrylands it was the strength of the Labour vote that was as noteworthy as the paucity of the Conservative performance. Ed Milliband will know he can coast to power without getting anywhere near winning seats like Eastleigh and he will delight at watching UKIP tear lumps out of the Conservative vote and will hope the same will happen in the key Midlands and Northern marginals.
My final observation is less diplomatic - I am thrilled that the odious anti-Lib Dem contributors on politicalbetting.com who have spent the last ten days shit-stirring, muckraking and otherwise doing everything in their power to denigrate, demotivate and undermine the Liberal Democrats failed and failed so completely. If I were Mike Smithson, I would throw them off the site and send them back to the sewer where they belong.
In addition, the shameless re-tweeting of the nauseating comments of such journalistic pondlife as Benedict Brogan and Iain Martin has exposed both the vicious right-wing contributors and their journalistic fellow-travellers for the vapid pusilianimous non-entities they really are. Their sneers and jeers cheapen political debate and are perhaps the real reason why the Right is so loathed in this country. Behind the facade of pretending to "care" for the alleged victims, they have sought to make political capital because they hate the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg (and by implication David Cameron) for creating a Government which calls itself Conservative but in their warped worldview is anything but.
IF the 2015 General Election deals the odious Right another bloody nose, I won't shed a tear and nor will most sensible people.