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Eastleigh: more on that poll and who the Lib Dem candidate will be

February 8, 2013 2:24 PM
By Mark Pack
This lunchtime I was on the Daily Politics with Tim Montgomerie being grilled by Andrew Neil about the Eastleigh by-election:

The backdrop to our discussion was the first Eastleigh by-election poll, conducted by Lord Ashcroft and with polling immediately after Chris Huhne's guilty plea, puts the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats within the margin of error (34% - 31%). The poll also shows a swing back to the Liberal Democrat from the Conservatives since the previous Ashcroft polling in Eastleigh, back in October 2010 (Lib Dems up 3%, Conservatives down 9%).

This current poll actually found more Liberal Democrats than Conservatives, but when (as is standard polling practice) adjusted for likelihood to vote, the Conservatives moved into that slim, statistically insignificant 34%-31% position.

The big challenge for the Lib Dems is the number of former supporters who said in the poll either that they were not sure of voting or that they were now not sure who they would vote for. They have not been lost direct to other parties, but instead are in a political limbo - which means they should be easier to win back than if they had been lost direct to other parties. (This mirrors the more general national picture I found with my exclusive YouGov analysis earlier in the Parliament.)

The Liberal Democrats start the campaign with some significant strengths. Two-thirds (67%) agree that the "Lib Dems do a good job locally" and over half (58%) agree that "In government, the Lib Dems have achieved some good things that would not otherwise have happened, or stopped some bad things happening that the Conservatives wanted to do".

The Conservatives have re-selected Maria Hutchings, whose views stirred up a fair amount of controversy the last time she stood. They include wanting to see the time limit for abortions cut to 10 weeks and hostile words directed towards both immigrants and asylum seekers. She's no modernising Conservative: "I don't care about refugees".

Labour, meanwhile, are both having trouble finding a candidate and selecting slowly (they're selecting last of the three main parties and not until next week). To top it off, Alan Johnson has already said in public they can't win.

The Liberal Democrat candidate will be selected on Saturday evening. My money is on it being someone who hasn't yet been named in the national media as a possible runner. Have fun speculating who I'm thinking of.