Monday, 25 February 2013


A frantic Sunday of campaigning has come to an end and the good people of Eastleigh only have three days of political phone calls, reams of leaflets and crowds of canvassers left to bear. On Thursday the quiet railway town will pass judgement on Britain's government and steer the coalition's program for the next two years.

Let's be clear - we're going to see a Lib Dem MP or a Conservative one on Thursday. UKIP will do well, by their standards, with potentially about 20% of the vote. Labour will pick up 10 - 15%. The main struggle, though, will be between the two parties of the coalition. The winner will go to London as a messenger - their message will be either 'more liberalism' or 'more conservatism'.

The immediate role of Eastleigh's new MP, in other words, will be to nudge the coalition's program slightly to the left or to the right.

Voters with whom I have spoken on doorsteps, on the phone or in the pub (where this was drafted) are broadly sympathetic with Lib Dem views on the economy and tax. They generally side more with the Tories on immigration and the EU.

And what about the candidates?

Maria Hutchings is the Conservative candidate. She moved into Eastleigh for the 2010 election and, after failing to oust Chris Huhne, displayed some tenacity in sticking around for another go in 2015. She didn't have to wait that long. Hutchings is a classic right-winger, pretty much born to join the Tory backbenches, with all the usual suspect views on the EU, gay marriage and abortion.

Mike Thornton is standing for the Liberal Democrats. He has lived in the town for two decades and has - I'm told - served with distinction on the council. He's a centre-ground politician with a classic Lib Dem agenda of lopping a bit more off the bottom rate of income tax and putting new taxes on expensive properties. I've tried and failed to find a tongue-in-cheek joke about whips and dead horses here. Couldn't mince my words enough.

So, as often as it gets said, this really is a pretty straightforward choice for voters.

My entirely unbiased suggestion is that more liberalism would be better than more conservatism. The economy needs a boost through infrastructure programs; the public need to see that government is 'on side' and could do with a bit more disposable income.

Neither immigration nor the EU are the root cause of our current difficulties. Nor, in fact, are they things which another right-wing Tory or even a UKIP majority in Parliament could do much about without driving Britain straight into an economic iceberg.

But that - however people vote on Thursday - is going to be a far harder argument to win.

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