Political firestarter Guido Fawkes gives his opinion on the Eastleigh by-election for the Paddy Power Blog
When Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne resigned his Eastleigh seat after pleading guilty to conspiracy to perverting the course of justice you would naturally expect his party to suffer as a result. Counter-intuitively the Lib Dems opened the betting as favourites, this was partly because private polling before his resignation had shown that even if Huhne resigned, his party would still lead in the polls locally. Eastleigh has an overwhelming number of Lib Dem local councillors and the party has held the seat for two decades – a strong starting position.
The Lib Dems called the writ for the election as soon as was decent, hoping that a quick election campaign would capitalise on their strong local presence and deprive their opponents of time to organise. Just as the writ was called a poll commissioned by Tory billionaire Lord Ashcroft was released showing the Conservatives ahead, had the Lib Dems mis-calculated the kick-back against their party as a result of Chris Huhne’s lying?
Pretty soon another poll was published showing the Lib Dems ahead, the Tories a little behind with UKIP and Labour scrapping at the back for fourth place – perhaps explaining why UKIP leader Nigel Farage chose not to run in Eastleigh. On the ground canvass returns and anecdotal evidence suggested that the Lib Dems might even see their majority increased. The Lib Dems had strength in numbers, local knowledge and were putting their famed by-election winning fighting machine into action. The Tory candidate had made a few unfortunate comments with which her opponents were bashing her. Guido put his money on the Lib Dems at this point – it never pays to bet against the pollsters.
Rennard could undo the Lib Dems
Ironically it could be that the former maestro of that by-election winning machine, Chris Rennard, could undo the Lib Dems. Last week Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News exposed the now Lord Rennard with a string of allegations from women against him. The explosive report put what had long been rumoured into the public domain and onto front pages. The timing could not have been worse for the Lib Dems – will this turn away voters? If the issue gets cut-through with the public and women voters in particular, could it undermine the Lib Dem’s chances in Eastleigh?
Pollsters Survation released a poll this weekend giving the Tories a 5 percentage point lead – the poll was carried out just as the Rennard sex scandal was getting the maximum of publicity. The Eastleigh by-election is now definitely a two-horse race.
Local polling is far more difficult to get right than national polling because the sample sizes are smaller and more difficult to make representative, nevertheless experience tells Guido that betting against the data can be expensive. We have had four polls and they have forecast wins for both the Tories and the Lib Dems – not much help.
For now Guido’s money remains on the Lib Dems winning because they have the superior ground forces in that they have more local troops with the local knowledge required to get out the vote. If however another poll came out putting the Tories ahead, I would lay my bet and switch to the blues. With two days to go, my tip is to stick with the yellows.
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