The Eastleigh by-election machine is well and truly up and running this weekend, with ministers starting to make their way down to the Hampshire constituency to start campaigning.
The focus is on the two coalition parties who have now both chosen their candidates, but it’s also interesting to see what Labour’s up to in the constituency. Labour came second in the 1994 by-election, but as the graph below shows, the party then embarked on a slide which saw it poll third in the four subsequent elections.
What’s interesting, though, is that though the party hasn’t yet announced its candidate, it’s had a stall down in the town for two weeks already, when there wasn’t even a by-election on the cards until last Monday. Mind you, though the Conservatives weren’t active in the constituency until the day Huhne resigned, I understand a group from CCHQ paid a visit to Eastleigh nine months ago to scope it out in case there was a by-election.
As James points out in his Mail on Sunday column, the Tories need Labour to put up a good fight because of its ability to take votes away from the Lib Dems. Lord Ashcroft’s poll, published at the end of last week, found Ed Miliband’s party had gained nine points to 19 per cent since the 2010 election (as had UKIP, up nine points to 13 per cent).
The fight will include references to ‘trust’, as in their campaign posters, but while the Conservatives don’t plan to make explicit references to Huhne in their campaign, they may well be helped by the conclusion of Vicky Pryce’s trial and the subsequent sentencing of the former Energy Secretary, which could well coincide with polling day. But the emphasis will be on Maria Hutchings as a local candidate: something that’s important when the Liberal Democrats already enjoy local prominence in the council.