A victory... for democracy

The showing in Eastleigh last night gives great hope that localised politics is still relevant and important in people's lives

That Liberal Democrat guy
The Commentator
On 1 March 2013 10:26

Many have spent the last eight hours of their lives pontificating on the results from Eastleigh. Many will continue to do so for many more hours, days, weeks, months and sadly, even years.

The consensus seems to be, quite bluntly: UKIP came good, Lib Dems are bullet proof, Tories are lost and Labour... who?

But in amongst all the partisan spin and soul-searching, we see a cause for celebration - perhaps even more so than the new Liberal Democrat MP. (Does anyone know what his name is?)

Last night, it was reported that the turnout in the Eastleigh by-election was over 52 percent. This figure is double that of the Croydon North and Middlesborough by-elections of last year. The last time we saw turnout like that for a by-election was in George Galloway's capture of Bradford West, though many including Galloway have expressed their concerns about that vote.

Previously, only the Glenrothes by-election (2008), buoyed by the SNP turnout, and the Tory gains in Henley and Crewe (2008) elicited such a reaction from the electorate.

What this means for the voters of Eastleigh is that despite politicians' failures in capturing the imagination of the general public, that grassroots, localised campaigning is still the most effective and influential way to get people engaged. UKIP knows this well, and is consistently matching the big three parties, blow for blow, at every recent by-election.

But to assume that these results are representative of the country, or indeed can be used as a projection for future by-elections and general elections is a flawed notion, one that is promulgated consistently by political commentators in desperate need of copy.

Yesterday, we wrote:

"It is with this in mind that for now, by-elections such as Eastleigh cannot be considered as representative, indicative or bellwethers. In fact, the situation surrounding Eastleigh, how the by-election came to pass, and how each party is fighting it is, for now, anomalous.

Of course, UKIPs performance yesterday was anything but anomalous. It was part of a trend that makes one thing more obvious by the day: UKIP is not a fringe, nor a protest party.

Again, caution must be exercised here. In his morning news round up, the Telegraph's Political Editor, Benedict Brogan outlined what the Eastleigh result might look like extrapolated out into a General Election. He was by no means claiming this would or could happen, but it made for interesting reading: 

"If the result was projected forward into a general election, parliament would be: Labour 355, Conservatives 208, Lib Dem 41, Ukip 17, Others 29. An overall Labour majority of 60."

Unfortunately for UKIP, there is simply no chance of this happening. Hopefully for the Tories, there is simply no chance of this happening.

Last night and the last few weeks' worth of campaigning in Eastleigh has taught us something that we thought we weren't going to be able to say again in a very long time: voters seem broadly engageable, in Eastleigh at least.

One thing we're quite happy to project across the board, is that unless the Conservative Party makes a massive offer or dent towards UKIP, the latter will continue to not just split the conservative, libertarian and Eurosceptic votes, but in a lot of incidences, just like last night, will pip the Tories at the post.

Middling, partisan hacks on both sides will not be so keen. In the meanwhile, as Daniel Hannan suggests here, the Europhiles and spendthrift candidates will continue to obtain seats in the Commons.

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