I will be campaigning and canvassing tonight and tomorrow for a Labour victory in Eastleigh and am not particularly interested in the pundit commentary but themes are coming through and the betting markets are suggesting an outcome.
The CCHQ spin machine though is already on full defensive management mode for a defeat, and the right wing commentariat are also out in force trying to downplay any Tory loss as being a result of historical precedent. That is absolute rubbish of course because historical precedent precludes when both parties in first and second are in coalition.
Cameron however is exposed on the way the Tories have managed the seat and serious questions should be asked about whether he can survive as a long term and realistic prospect for 2015 and beyond if he loses tomorrow.
- Tory Target; Eastleigh was target seat Number 12 in the General Election in 2010. A seat which swung in 1997 when the centre-left vote supported any candidate but the Tory and which has voted that way ever since. It is clear that unless Cameron can win, and win big, in seats like this he is in major major trouble for 2015. Put simply his brand position is too weak to change the minds of the electorate at exactly the time he needs to be to be contention for 2015 for a majority.
- 1st / 2nd place; The by-election is not a Coalition Govt v Opposition fight which is naturally what a by-election is. Both parties in major contention in 2010 were Coalition Parties therefore the paradigm can not be compared to other by-elections because the protest second-place is in fact not a protest (if that makes sense). Given the Huhne scandal and the news around Rennard we should see a depression in the Lib Dem turnout figures. Despite the spin therefore the Tories should be doing better. The Lib Dem vote % has halved since 2010; if the Tories cant bank this seat now then is the Conservative Party realistically in contention for 2015 with Cameron at the helm?
- UKIP; has postioned to scoop up the true Tory vote and is growing, growing, growing; if they pip the Tories to second place it is clear that Progressive Conservatism is also a major electoral liability. Blair changed the paradigm of British Politics in 1995 to such an extent that it can be argued the Tories cant build a broad enough tent without it collapsing. I suspect UKIP will hoover up the Tory right flank but it will be the extent of this which will be interesting given UKIP are positioning for European Elections next year. UKIP claims it is stealing Labour voters but since the last European elections are vote share has gone up from 28% to current 42% so I dont see any evidence (other then wishful thinking) that UKIP aren't just hoovering up the type of vote that probably voted Tory anyway.
- Organisation; Lib Dems have had a better ground war whilst the Tories have had MERLIN fail on them, though blaming the tool kit is always the recourse of those managing expectations of loss. That being said; this election has not come out of the blue (to use a pun) - Tories should have been working this seat better (or perhaps they were and CCHQ just isnt briefing!) and should have had a proper field of good quality candidates for the constituency to pick.
- Candidate; the Lib Dem candidate is a true local candidate whilst the Tory candidate has been a liability from start to finish. From gaffes, failure to hust to accusations she has been gagged (not exactly great when you want to be the voice of the constituency). She has served to highlight my point that the Conservative Party tent is not broad enough to accomodate those with Progressive values and a problem like Maria [socially Conservative, traditional and have rosey tinted glasses on Thatcherism]. At what point I was afraid the Tories had a broad enough appeal (in the Norwich by-election for example) but it seems once again they are reverting to type (if the latest Tory PPC selections are to be taken into account; mostly male, white and ardent Thatcherites)
For Tories to lose Eastleigh should send shock waves through the party; when the former MP has pleaded guilty to a criminal offence and at the same time as the Lib Dem party is mired in sleaze and alleged cover ups; is shockingly poor.
Will Cameron survive? Well CCHQ is certainly managing its surrogate expectations well but with local election defeats coming in May for how much longer?
There are some Tories that claim that Cameron out-polls the party; but given Cameron couldn't even win in 2010 that is simply laughable.
Will they be brave enough to pick a new generation of candidate or will they continue to flat-line in the polls at the same level (30-33%) which led them to three General Election defeats?