Lessons from the Eastleigh by-election for the West Midlands

John Chubb’s thoughts on last Thursday’s unexpected call to a ballot box in the south.

Lessons from the Eastleigh by-election for the West MidlandsThe dust settles, another by-election is over and the political circus moves on.

Are there any lessons to be gained?  Well, it shows that that if a party has a decent local organisation, it can weather a storm. Nationally, voluntary party organisation has withered away across all parties. Being an activist with a big P is a minority sport nowadays,

Nevertheless, in spite of adverse publicity ie the initial Chris Huhne affair, the Lord Rennard allegations and how Nick Clegg handled them, the LibDems displayed resilience in defending their seat.  The electorate liked a trusted local person. It could separate him out from the national scandal elsewhere.

How many voters were swayed by Westminster MPs descending on the constituency for a day or two? The electorate is more mature than is given credit for. Why should a famous name and face swing a vote? A party paying attention to local issues and growing organically over time, can match a short-lived blitz by activists parachuted in from elsewhere. They don’t know the geography or issues.

What else? The Conservatives now have some serious competition for the right of centre vote. UKIP could be the irritant for the Tories that the short-lived SDP were to Labour decades ago. Electors connect to politicians with character and personality. Like Alex Salmon for the Scottish Nationalists, Nigel Farage at UKIP has a sunny disposition. In this media-obsessed political world, this may be worth quite a few points. The electorate see the leaders of the main parties as presentation clones of each other. The neck ties spell the difference.

UKIP voters are now endearingly called “kippers”. This non-threatening label may help the party to gain even more votes. It is typically British breakfast fare. On the other hand, UKIP has to create a portfolio of policies other than Europe and immigration. It needs other faces beyond Farage. It is in danger of being a one-person leadership as with Caroline Lucas and the Greens.

This was not a good battle for Labour – a miniscule increase in the voter share when welfare and austerity issues were on the agenda. Lib-Dems and Labour represent the progressive pole of the political spectrum, and if the latter hold their ground then the pickings for Labour may be slim. Ed Milliband has a long way to go to convince voters he is “one nation.”

Eastleigh was an election held in an area as different as could be from the urban and culturally diverse West Midlands. At the 2015 General Election, the electorate may easily have a serious four way choice at the ballot box. Tactical voting will be there and with uncertain outcomes, coalition government may be around for a further five years. In an age of confusing and confused politics, the candidates who do well in 2015 may be those who are seen as good constituency MPs, have a presence, have the confidence to be their own person and can communicate like the rest of us.

John Chubb is a Wolverhampton-based presentation and communication specialist blogging at www.adlibynct.blogspot.co.uk

One thought on “Lessons from the Eastleigh by-election for the West Midlands

  1. It will be interesting to see what the effect of the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections, where the PR system in use means that UKIP may well win several seats, has on the political temperature and the Tories in particular.

    Also, a thought, if Scotland votes for independence, and Labour win the 2014 General Election by anything other than a landslide, they would presumably become a minority government pretty soon once independence comes into being.

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