The relegation of the Conservative Party to third place in the Eastleigh by-election puts further pressure on the Conservative leadership to move to the Right. Yet the lesson of Eastleigh is that when it does so its voters flock to Ukip.
The relegation of the Conservative Party to third place in the Eastleigh by-election puts further pressure on the Conservative leadership to move to the Right.
The problem is that, much like when the Labour Party moved to the Left in the early 1980s, the result when the Tories stray from the centreground is that the party hemorrhages votes.
The reasons why Cameron is under such pressure to move to the Right are understandable, even if they are wrongheaded.
George Osborne’s economic Plan A is failing miserably even on its own terms.
Add to that the fact that Ed Miliband is beginning to up his game in terms of policy as well as presentation; and the inconvenient fact that David Cameron has never won a General Election, and you get the feeling that Conservative central office is a tad apprehensive right now.
It must also be tempting for the Conservative Party to hand more powers to Lynton Crosby, “the Australian Karl Rove” who was the brains behind the electoral domination of John Howard’s right-wing Australian Liberal Party in the late nineties and early noughties, forgetting perhaps that it was Crosby who also presided over British Conservative leader Michael Howard’s disastrous “are you thinking what we’re thinking?” campaign in 2005.
The encouraging irony for Labour, however, is that despite mainstream political assumptions that it is a vote winner to tack to the Right on issues such as immigration and Europe, evidence from Eastleigh, where Tory candidate Maria Hutchings played an unapologetically Right-wing hand, suggests that when the Conservatives do so Right-wing voters abandon the Tories for Ukip.
Why, after all, eat a potentially Euro-contaminated hamburger when you can opt for 100% British veal?
Evidently, many people in Eastleigh and elsewhere are also not thinking what Lynton Crosby is thinking. If the electoral swings seen in Eastleigh recur at the general election, the result would look something like this: Labour would take 355 seats with the Conservatives on 208. The Liberal Democrats would take 41 and Ukip would have 17.
The Conservatives are essentially in a fix. Move to the Right and watch their voters go over in their droves to Ukip, or put the Right of the party in its place by abandoning failed austerity economics.
The government appears to believe that if it abandons austerity now it will represent a humiliating climbdown (it will), so expect an increasingly emboldened Tory Right to deliver more Tory voters into Nigel Farage’s lap.
Here’s the result in full:
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 13,342 (32.06%, -14.48%)
Diane James (UKIP) 11,571 (27.80%, +24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 10,559 (25.37%, -13.96%)
John O’Farrell (Labour) 4,088 (9.82%, +0.22%)
Danny Stupple (Independent) 768 (1.85%, +1.56%)
Dr Iain Maclennan (National Health Action Party) 392 (0.94%)
Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 235 (0.56%)
Kevin Milburn (Christian Party) 163 (0.39%)
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 136 (0.33%)
Jim Duggan (Peace Party) 128 (0.31%)
David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 72 (0.17%)
Michael Walters (English Democrats) 70 (0.17%, -0.30%)
Daz Procter (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) 62 (0.15%)
Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 30 (0.07%)
Liberal Democrat majority 1,771 (4.26%, -2.94%)
Turnout: 41,616 52.8% (-12,034, -16.5%)
Swing: 19.34% Liberal Democrat to UKIPLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.