Published on 1 Mar 2013 Sections

Lib Dems overcome problems to win Eastleigh

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg celebrates Mike Thornton’s “stunning victory” for the party in the Eastleigh by-election. The Conservatives finished third behind Ukip.

The Conservative party’s candidate, Maria Hutchings, polled 25.37 per cent of the vote, behind the winning Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Thornton who won 32.06 per cent of the vote, and Ukip’s Diane James, who secured 27.8 per cent of the vote.

Speaking in 10 Downing Street, the prime minister said: “It is a disappointing result for the Conservative party, but it is clear that, in mid-term by-elections, people want to register a protest.

“But I am confident that at the general election we can win those people back by demonstrating that we are delivering for everyone who wants to work hard and wants to get on. That is what we will be focused on.”

‘Difficult circumstances’

The Liberal Democrats clung onto Chris Huhne‘s former seat by a margin of 1,700 votes ahead of Ukip, with the Conservatives in third and Labour in fourth.

We overcame the odds and won a stunning victory. Nick Clegg

Mr Clegg said: “This has been a by-election we had to fight in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Our opponents have thrown everything at us. We overcame the odds and won a stunning victory”.

The Liberal Democrats retained the seat depite the party being hit by controversy in relation to allegations of sexual impropriety against Lord Rennard.

Mr Clegg said his party had won in Eastleigh because they were able to show how the Liberal Democrat policies would benefit people on a local and national scale.

Speaking about the coalition, he said: “Our critics said we were going to lose our souls, lose our values, lose our ability to win and last night we proved those critics wrong”.

He added that he would “leave it up to the Conservatives and Labour to explain their poor performance” in the by-election.

New Lib Dem MP Mike Thornton said: “Tonight is a great night for the Lib Dems nationally and a strong signal of support for Nick Clegg.

“Those who say the Lib Dems won’t win again – the Lib Dems can do it, they have done it and they will do it again.

You, Eastleigh, have delivered one humongous political shock. Diane James, Ukip

“There is no greater honour to have gained your support. I commit myself now to being a hard working constituency MP.”

Ukip surge

Diane James, the Ukip candidate, said: “You, Eastleigh, have delivered one humongous political shock.

“No longer will Ukip be excluded from polls and interviews. Thank you, everyone.”

The Lib Dem majority is roughly half that achieved by Chris Huhne in the 2010 election, after a strong surge for Ukip. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said he believed his party had polled more votes on the day, but that the Liberal Democrats had won because of postal votes.

Her added that he did not have “sour grapes” and said he was delighted with the result as “never again can people say a Ukip vote is a wasted vote”.

He also said laid blame for the Conservative failure at the door of Mr Cameron, saying party members did not see a Conservative when they looked at their leader.

Labour in fourth

Labour’s candidate, satirist and author John O’Farrell, polled 4,088 votes, securing only a marginal 0.2 per cent increase on the party’s 2010 general election vote share.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Clearly I would have preferred to have got more votes than we did, but this was always going to be a tough fight for Labour – it’s a seat that we’ve never won.

“It convinces me that we need to redouble our efforts to reach out to every part of the country, including areas where Labour hasn’t traditionally been strong.

“This was a disastrous night for the Conservatives and David Cameron. What we want to hear from the prime minister is a recognition that people are deeply unhappy with the direction of the country and he’s going to listen.”

Eastleigh by-election – reaction and analysis