The Liberal Democrats have held onto the Eastleigh Constituency in the key by-election yesterday, with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) pushing the Conservatives into third place.
Local councillor Mike Thornton won a plurality of 1,771 votes – polling 13,342 altogether – to give the Lib Dems the win and will replace the disgraced MP Chris Huhne as MP of the borough.
The win was with little more than half of the plurality achieved in the 2010 election- with a 14 percentage fall in voting share – but is considered a major boost for the flailing party. The win came despite Chris Huhne’s departure, falling polling support and a recent sexual harassment scandal facing the party.
UKIP candidate Diane James came second with 11,571 votes; a major blow to the Tories with their candidate Maria Hutchings winning 10,559 votes, just over 25% of the vote. It was the best performance ever by the euro-sceptic party, coming very close to winning with signs that they are new ‘protest vote’. It was an increase of 10,000 votes with a swing of 24.20% in their favour.
The people of Eastleigh recognise that the Liberal Democrats have always had a superb record of delivery, we’ve always listened to what people want, and we always make sure that we do a good job.Mike ThorntonLib Dem MP For Eastleight
For Cameron, the humiliating result will serve as a warning shot, with their 14% reduction almost parallel to that seen by the Lib Dems. Eastleigh is on a target list of 20 Lib-Dem held seats that the Conservatives need to win in order to win an outright majority in the next General Election in 2015.
It could cause a crisis in the party and the coalition – as well as pressure on Cameron’s leadership – as to whether they are heading down the right path, with UKIP leader Nigel Farage and many Senior Conservatives blaming the result on the direction that the Prime Minister has taken the party. It also have much scrutiny on why his appeals to eurosceptic voters, such as the promised referendum Europe and controlled EU migration has not bought dividends for the party.
Questions will also be asked whether Hutchings – who was seen wiping away tears when the result was called – was the right candidate considering her numerous gaffes, especially as she was seen as more-UKIP than the actual UKIP candidate.
Labour were also disappointed; John O’Farrell took only 4,088 representing a small percentage voting share increase of +0.22%. However, the Press Association have suggested such a swing nationwide would lead to a Labour majority of 60 seats in 2015.
Turnout was also dramatically down, falling from 69.3% in the 2010 general election to 52.7%.