The dust has normally settled by the weekend following a byelection. But Thursday’s result in Eastleigh has thrown up all sorts of questions which occupy the weekend’s newspapers.
Top among them is David Cameron’s willingness to lurch to the right to see off the rising star of UKIP who managed to push the Tories into third on Thursday. Then there is the way in which the Tories failed to make any progress against the ‘intransigent’ Lib Dem vote despite two high profile scandals. There is the question about why Labour came fourth as well.
I know two people who went to help in Eastleigh. One came back saying support for UKIP was everywhere. The other said the Lib Dems had it in the bag with more than a week to go before Polling Day. Confused? Both turned out to be right. And, coincidentally, both spent more time travelling to Eastleigh than actually talking to voters to find out what they wanted.
What was clear to me listening to the audience from Eastleigh on BBC Question Time on Thursday night was how utterly detached they were from Westminster politics. Or do I mean that the other way around?
It wasn’t just the amount of bumpf they’d received through their doors that had turned them off. Nor was it immigration or the Lisbon Treaty that made them vote UKIP, or the Lib Dems’ record in the Coalition government or on women’s rights in employment. It was Conservative and Labour’s inability to reconnect with voters, to understand where theyare and how they are affected by this awful recession.
That and the lack of any base in the community. It has taken a local Tory Agent putting his finger on the dramatic decline of the Conservative local base – from 1,000 to 100 members of the local association – to identify the absence of the Tory vote on Thursday.
This time it is the Conservatives who suffered a bloody nose. David Cameron will have to suffer the whisperings of his right-wing who doubt his ability to lead them to outright victory in 2015.
But the lessons of reconnection at a local level are there for Labour to learn, too.
It’s not uncommon to hear people at the end of a toughly contested election decry the number of leaflets that have been pushed through their doors. I doubt any of them made a single bit of difference to the final outcome.
Cllr. Mike Haywood (Roman Ward)
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