How Eastleigh will show Labour is working

Labour is serious about winning in the south

23 February 2013

9:00 AM

23 February 2013

9:00 AM

Politics offers few greater pleasures than watching a by-election candidate self-immolate. Not a day goes by without Maria Hutchings, the Conservative party’s prospective MP for Eastleigh (so plainly hating the whole thing), tossing another match on the pyre of her electoral credibility.

But beyond the enjoyable barbarism of democracy, an important question is emerging from Eastleigh for the Labour party: how ready are we for government? Because if David Cameron cannot win in true blue Hampshire, on the back of a Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister perverting the course of justice, then he is well and truly stuffed.

When the Eastleigh by-election was called, there was a lazy Westminster debate about Labour’s job being to decide which coalition partner should win. Do we go in hard and let the Tories in; or hang back to let the Liberal Democrats keep the seat?

Rightly, Ed Miliband decided to fight to win with a high-profile candidate. John O’Farrell might be a comedian, but we are taking this by-election seriously, because if Labour is not interested in representing Eastleigh, then we have no governing project. ‘The party has to recover in the south for the sake of political principle, not just electoral advantage,’ wrote the Labour intellectuals Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice after the 2010 defeat left us with only ten seats out of 197 in southern England. ‘Labour should aspire to be a national party in every geographical and social constituency.’


This is as true of Eastleigh as it is of Stoke-on-Trent or Gateshead. Eastleigh is an everyday place: there is not a great deal of family money here, but a lot of regular concerns about squeezed budgets and public services. What is more, voters in Hampshire and the south do not have a foreign set of values to the heartlands of the Labour north. Instead, the difference is that the Labour party has too often failed to provide both a language which speaks to southern voters and a presence on the ground.

This is the psychological significance of Eastleigh. It shows that the Labour party is not going to retreat to a core strategy of upping the solid Labour vote while picking off disaffected Liberal Democrats. Nor will we limit ourselves to precision strikes against a few target wards in Stevenage and Redditch. Instead, we will treat the electorate with respect by offering them choice.

The tactic has already proved a success. John Denham, Southampton MP and Ed Miliband eminence grise, speaks of a grass-roots revival of Labour members across Dorset, Sussex, Hampshire and even Surrey. They are charging along the M3 to gain the doorstep training which will put those southern marginals of Dover, Thurrock, and Brighton Kempton in play.

For oppositions to win, governments also need to lose — and this one is doing so with gusto. The Tory and Lib Dem campaigns have been reduced to fights over various local planning permissions, all of which they have endorsed at national level. Indeed, the usual Lib Dem tactic of disavowing any responsibility for anything ever — hoping to be the protest vote against their own government — seems to be unwinding.

But what is really striking is the stand-out incompetence of the Tory election machine. From the not-so-A-list candidate, through the confused political message, to the daily appearance of the shifty, charlatan Tory chairman Grant Shapps, the Conservatives have blown it. The party is hollowed out and it shows. From the quiet, deep England of Eastleigh, Maria Hutchings is torching any chance of a majority Conservative government. And it is all marvellous to behold.


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Show comments
  • Vulture

    Interesting piece of spin Mr Hunt. (Have I spelt that correctly?)

    If Maria Hutchings is as awful as you say – and she is – and Labour is the wave of the future, how do you explain the fact that your far- left candidate, who cheers on terrorist murderers, is going to come a very poor fourth?

    • http://twitter.com/DHewson The BBC Sucks BBC’s

      Behind Ukip.

    • Philsopinion

      ”cheers on terrorist murderers”

      Cameron’s happy to shake hands with and sell weapons to the likes of the King of Bahrain or the Sri Lankan government which have terrorised their own populations – nevermind cheer them on. He’s also more than happy to give weapons to Islamists in Syria. Meanwhile his Trade Minister’s company, HSBC, helped facilitate terrorist financing through their off-shore shell companies.

    • http://twitter.com/redwater1 Terry Crow

      Usual right wing distraction from the real issues – and no opinion polls recently so pure conjecture. A week to go and all to play for

  • http://twitter.com/A_Liberty_Rebel A Libertarian Rebel

    Hunt’s article is hilarious.

    Firstly, on Labour’s “high-profile” candidate. Whether O’Farrell was high-profile prior to his selection (very much as a second choice, it’s recently emerged) he certainly is now: although perhaps not in the way he or Hunt would welcome. O’Farrell is on record as regretting the IRA didn’t succeed in murdering an elected Prime Minister. He’s on record as regretting we lost the Falklands War (after suffering 255 HM Forces fatalities, presumably). And he’s on record as suggesting the Duchess of Cambridge should be pimped out to rich Saudis at £1m a time in order to help repay the staggering levels of debt that his own party ran up. Nice.

    Secondly, on the contention that the Conservatives are “hollowed out”. Hunt should perhaps examine the remarks about Labour made by his own now head of strategy Jon Cruddas to the author & columnist Peter Oborne and quoted in Oborne’s “The Triumph Of The Political Class”:

    “Cruddas told me how….the party had been ‘hollowed out’, and its membership taken for granted. He described how the focus on swing voters had caused policy to be constructed for an aspirational middle class, which meant that Labour’s core working-class vote was systemically excluded. ‘Its primary objective is to reproduce itself… it is a power elite whose modus operandi is the retention of power’”

    Hunt should be told unequivocally: physician, heal thyself.

    • Philsopinion

      ”the staggering levels of debt that his own party ran up”

      You mean the staggering levels of debt the City and the Tory party’s chief donors ran up in the biggest financial crisis since 1929. A lot of these financiers fancy themselves Libertarians too.

      • http://twitter.com/MisterQuintus Tony Quintus

        Um, no, start with the debt that Gordan ran up before the crisis hit, and the PFI debt he hid off the books, and that’s after selling off everything he could get his hands on.

    • Philsopinion

      ‘Its primary objective is to reproduce itself… it is a power elite whose modus operandi is the retention of power’”

      ”The Conservative Party is a coalition of privileged interests which wins power by giving just enough to just enough people” (Senior Tory to Oxford Union)

  • http://twitter.com/DHewson The BBC Sucks BBC’s

    The South, especially the South East isn’t stupid enough to let labour anywhere near the levers of power again, they drove this country off a cliff.

    • Philsopinion

      ”they drove this country off a cliff”

      Who did? The banks and hedge funds? Yes, they did didn’t they. Testing the Tory neoliberal / market fundamentalist / deregulation ideology to breaking point.

      • http://twitter.com/DHewson The BBC Sucks BBC’s

        Who deregulated the banks? Labour did.

      • Ridcully

        Yes, it was all the fault of those wicked bankers, while the previous government looked on helplessly, the poor impotent little darlings.

    • http://twitter.com/redwater1 Terry Crow

      How soon you forget the American subprime meltdown leading to banking failure worldwide leading to a sudden recession, plumetting government revenues and mounting public debt. Labour’s fault? Yes, in the sense that Labour put its faith in capitalism – but then all the politicians do that, more or less, don’t they? It is the system that is the problem – not Labour politicians, bankers, immigrants, welfare, unemployment, public services.

      At least John O’Farrell is more to the Left than national LP (I think!) – so he will get my vote on the 28th where I didn’t bother in 2010. And if he didn’t the next best thing – either TUSC or NHA Party.

      • http://twitter.com/DHewson The BBC Sucks BBC’s

        Labour stripped the BofE of its regulatory powers, created the useless FSA, deregulated the banks, allowed the many supply to double, did nothing about double digit house price inflation, claimed to have abolished boom & bust & went on a borrowing & spending spree at the height of the boom instead of paying down debt, as Thatcher would’ve.

  • David Barnett

    Which party does Tristram Hunt support?

    • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.l.anthony.5 Christopher ‘Longcat’ Anthony

      He’s Labour MP For Stoke-On-Trent Central.

  • http://twitter.com/_tommylong Tommy Long

    Is it really the case that Labour can celebrate coming 4th in the South of England when they’re 15% ahead in the national polls? Do Labour really think simply taking the Northern vote is adequate to run the UK?

    • http://twitter.com/redwater1 Terry Crow

      Eastleigh is working class, yet nearly 86% voted for one or other of the Coalition parties.

      In general terms Labour will pick up LibDem votes and UKIP will pick up Tory votes.

      A 4 way split leaves the race wide open – but every vote against this Coalition matters, not just who wins.

      • http://twitter.com/AAEmmerson A.A.Emmerson

        Eastleigh really isn’t that working class. It’s in the heart of Hampshire. It’s lower middle at best.

  • JoeDM

    Maria Hutchings views are closer to the core Tory support than any of the wet Cameroonian cabal.

    It is the disconnect between the metropolitan elite Cameroonians and the rest of the party that is the real problem.

  • M. Wenzl

    From a political point of view, Hutchings was an abysmally poor choice. In 2010, the Eastleigh electorate re-elected a centre-left candidate with an increased majority. The fact that Hutchings lost that time should have been proof enough that a different candidate was required. But what’s even more puzzling is why the Tories would nominate a right-wing candidate in a constituency that is clearly centrist? The rationale just does not add up, unless either 1) the backbenches were clamouring for it, or 2) Hutchings is a major donor. Otherwise, it demonstrates a terrible lack of central planning which does not bode well for 2015.

  • AlexanderGalt

    What the Conservative candidate has shown is that the media dtwist and destroy any candidate with genuine opinions, so we get the plastic Camerons and Claire Perrys that we all despise.

    Incidentally there’s a great love triangle story of her in: “My Evil Temptress” at:


  • http://twitter.com/AAEmmerson A.A.Emmerson

    I’m somewhat surprised that a figure as big as Hunt is willing to lay out such a broad faced challenge the party, that will so evidently not pay off.

    When the tories and Liberals have been achieving some 300-400 volunteers a day, the story from Labour is they struggled to find 30-40 to appear with Ed Miliband at his photoshoot.

    It’s just been bad tactics for Labour to go so heavily after the seat. A seat they’re crowing about being serious for.

    My money is a 4th place finish.

    • http://twitter.com/MisterQuintus Tony Quintus

      A 4th place finish would merely be bad, my money is on a 5th place finish behind the National heath action party, which would be a disaster

  • Guest


    This morning’s Populus poll bears that out. They are in third place with 21 per cent, with the Tories second on 28 and the Lib Dems ahead with 33. But, as the indispensable UK Polling Report points out,if you don’t reallocate some of the undecides to the party they voted for last time, UKIP are doing even better. The numbers then are UKIP 25%, Tories 26% and Lib Dems 31%”

    From: Specatordotcodotuk

  • philgcdr


    This morning’s Populus poll bears that out. They are in third place with 21 per cent, with the Tories second on 28 and the Lib Dems ahead with 33. But, as the indispensable UK Polling Report points out,if you don’t reallocate some of the undecides to the party they voted for last time, UKIP are doing even better. The numbers then are UKIP 25%, Tories 26% and Lib Dems 31%”


  • wycombewanderer

    He’s not a comedian;he’s a scumbag, a scumbag endorsed by the leader of the scumbags for the party of scumbags.