|David Cameron and Eastleigh's Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings |
(who was beaten into third place by the UKIP candidate)
(source: The Guardian)
On Friday I woke to the news that the Liberal Democrats had retained control over the Eastleigh seat in the House of Commons. Those in my Government & Politics class will know all too well that I’d predicted a slim Conservative majority due to "Rennardgate" and Lib Dem unpopularity nationally. Second place would have been disappointing. But to come third behind, as David Cameron once called UKIP, ‘a bunch of loonies and closet racists’, is just humiliating.
Cameron’s rival for the party leadership in 2005, David Davis said on Wednesday that a Lib Dem victory would create a ‘crisis’ and would ‘increase chances of a move against [Cameron]’ It seems to me that the Conservatives will be spending the next couple of months reassessing the crucial strategy to win in 2015 - my concern is that there might be a shift to the right to appease Davis and others. As I noted last month, in 'Why I am coming very close to leaving the Conservative Party", such a decision would be disastrous, rendering us completely unelectable to the largely sane British public.
By-elections are always used as opportunities to giving the government of the day a bit of a spanking - so why am I so shocked that the Conservatives have suffered such a blow as this? Because the Liberal Democrats were able to retain their seat despite the controversy surrounding Lord Rennard and the fact that the Lib Dems are despised nationally. However the Lib Dems ran a campaign on local issues, for which I must say they are particularly strong, and avoided talk of perverted party executives.
It would also seem that our candidate may have significantly hindered our chances - Maria Hutchings first made her way onto the front pages in 2005, when she interrupted Tony Blair during a live TV phone-in and gave him a bit of a trashing. On local issues, she is strong: protect the green belt, build new housing on brownfield sites. However, on national matters, she doesn’t seem terribly nice: opposed to abortion, opposed to equal marriage and known for making bizarre comments about state education (particularly ill-advised as Eastleigh's local secondary school, Thornden, is seen as one of the best in Hampshire). The Daily Mirror joked that Hutchings is “the Tories’ Sarah Palin” - for the first time, I find myself agreeing with the newspaper. Had the party chosen a more voter-friendly, progressively-minded candidate, then we might not have been drubbed so badly on Friday.
National newspapers today have reported that Conservative backbenchers are readying themselves to challenge David Cameron’s leadership, depending on how successful the 2013 Budget and May elections are. Oh dear.
It seems that they still haven’t realised that the main reason that we stand a slight chance in 2015 is because of our current leader - he, unlike many of his colleagues, doesn’t have a mindset stuck in the 1950s. If he were to be deposed by the Tory Right, then there would be a greater exodus of people from the left of the Conservatives than there has been from the right. We would become even less appealing to young people, LGBT voters and ethnic minorities, and I will bet my bottom dollar that we would lose more votes from centrist voters than we’d gain from UKIP.
Eastleigh must be a wake up call - not to the party, but to the government. Keep unemployment down, invest in infrastructural projects and revitalise the economy: that’s how we will earn the trust of voters again. Pandering to a party of fruit cakes and loonies is not the solution.