The good news for Nick Clegg—and the bad news for David Cameron—is that the Liberal Democrats are racing certainties to hold Eastleigh in the by-election next Thursday. As I say in the magazine this week, the Liberal Democrats’ base in the constituency – they hold every ward in the seat – has given them an insuperable advantage. This victory means that Clegg will be spared the Spring conference crisis that would have followed a defeat there; for if the Lib Dems could lose Eastleigh where they are so well dug in, they could lose anywhere.
Cameron, by contrast, will have to deal with an intensely restless party. The Tories’ failure to take Eastleigh in these circumstances highlights just how difficult it is going to be for the Tories to take seats off the Lib Dems in 2015. Post-Eastleigh, Cameron’s MPs will be even more aware that if the party is in government again after 2015, it’ll be as part of another coalition.
But I suspect that another story next Thursday night will be how well UKIP does. They are surging there and I’d be surprised if they didn’t come a strong third. When I was down earlier in the week, I found it picking up voters off all three parties. It is getting disillusioned working class votes in Eastleigh town itself, which is a bit of the de-industralised north in Hampshire. While out in the more prosperous parts of the constituency it is picking up protest votes off the Lib Dems as well as playing on concerns among Tory voters about how sound Cameron is on Europe, immigration and tax.