WAS political justice done in the Eastleigh by-election when the votes were counted this morning?
Why anyone would still want to vote Liberal Democrat after the constituency’s MP resigned after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice beats me. Why anyone would still have loyalty for a party mired in a Savile-like scandal where its chief executive is accused of sexual impropriety and even if he is proved innocent of those charges the party leadership sought to cover the matter up and keep it from the public.
Only two reasons might have kept people voting Liberal Democrat – a blind faith that comes from the local politics where the Lib Dems are strongly dominant – or a bigger fear (or disgust) for Cameron and Osborne’s Conservative Party than the untrustworthy incumbents.
So, although the Liberal Democrats have won on a far lower majority, the real story of Eastleigh is how UKIP nearly took the seat and pushed the Tories into a humiliating third place.
But let’s deal with Labour first, if only to get Miliband’s party out of the way. In normal times with an unpopular government and a distressed economy we might expect the main opposition party to not only do well, but to win the seat. Labour came fourth. In the scheme of things that means it came last.
Maybe the party should not have chosen a comedian, a joke candidate without the laughs, who famously expressed his disappointment that the IRA had not killed Margaret Thatcher in the 1984 Brighton bombing.
As someone who knew a number of those who were murdered in that southern seaside town – just like Eastleigh – I cannot understand how John O’Farrell can consider himself a democrat or how the Labour Party could condone his views by bestowing upon him the honour of being its candidate. It says everything about how low Labour has sunk and coming last was entirely fitting. Those with the party’s best interests at heart should be asking tough questions of Ed Miliband’s immature leadership.
For Cameron and Osborne’s modernised Conservatives, the Eastleigh result is a disaster.
Tactically it was a badly run campaign and the party chairman, Grant Shapps, should be asked to resign. It’s not as if the Eastleigh constituency was a surprise by-election caused by the unexpected death of its member, giving the Tories no time to organise or work the seat. The former MP, Chris Huhne, was charged with his crime of lying and cheating over a year ago in February 2012 so there was plenty of time to get a locally-based campaign up and running that could rely on pavement politics and community issues to neutralise the Lib Dems’ only remaining advantage. This was not done. There was ample opportunity to emphasise the issue of “trust” that would undermine the Lib Dems who famously broke their promise on university tuition fees and many more since. This was not done.
But the Eastleigh defeat is not just an organisational calamity, it is far, far bigger than that for it goes directly to the failure of Cameron and Osborne’s strategy to heal our economy and rebuild Britain.
Instead of being asked can you trust a Liberal Democrat, the electorate decided the more important question was can you trust the Conservatives – and the answer given was a big raspberry that pushed them into third place in a seat that was once true blue.
There was a lot of nonsense said last week after Moody’s downgraded the UK’s credit rating by people who had either not read the explanation for the embarrassing judgement or wilfully chose to ignore it. What Moody’s had said was that the trouble with the Coalition Government is that it is not, repeat not, applying the necessary public spending cuts that it claims to call “austere”, but is instead allowing spending to climb and is thus borrowing more than it said it would.
Moody’s was essentially saying the Coalition Government could not be trusted and was on course to fail.
Its solution was that the Government should live up to its austerity programme, reduce its spending and encourage private sector economic growth. Only Ed Balls could construe that recommendation as an endorsement of his Plan B for borrowing more.
The problem for Cameron and Osborne is that their own supporters no longer trust them; they are deserting their party in droves and are shifting to UKIP as a result.
This is not out of some hatred towards Europe or Europeans, but out of a growing realisation that for changes to be made in the way Britain is governed, for decisions to be taken in the UK’s own best interests, requires it to be outside of the EU.
As people waken up to this fact Cameron attempted to shoot the UKIP fox by offering a referendum about EU membership some time in the distant future – but it has not worked.
UKIP polled 27.8 per cent in Eastleigh, beating Cameron’s Tories by more than a 1000 votes. Now Osborne’s budget is this government’s last chance – or the wrong Miliband will be walking into Downing Street in 2015.