With the coalition more than halfway through its agreed five years, Eastleigh may give some indication of trends to come for the 2015 general election. The results for the major parties on a 52.68 per cent turn out:
Mike Thornton, Liberal Democrats - 13,342
Diane James, Ukip - 11,571
Maria Hutchings, Conservative party - 10,559
John O'Farrell, Labour party - 4,088
This result is the first by-election that neither Conservatives nor Labour have won since WWII. This also marks a Liberal Democrat victory that was not a vote against the current government, but one for it. Eastleigh is however a heavily Liberal Democrat constituency, with a large Liberal Democrat presence in council seats. Labour candidate John O'Farrell had expressed surprise that many election leaflets referred to council issues which as an MP he would have no say in.
That Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings came third will be a knock for Cameron, especially as she was defeated by Ukip's Diane James. Ukip remains a thorn in Cameron's side, as the Tory right insists Cameron (branded a 'moderniser') accommodates them on the EU and economic policy. Cameron said "it's disappointing for the Conservative Party but we must remain true to our principles, true to our course, and that way we can win people back".
The co-editor of Lib Dem website Liberal Voice, Stephen Tall, wrote:
Ukip is the only other party which can view Eastleigh with pleasure. Assisted by a talented candidate, Diane James (who I’d suggest was a bigger vote-winner for the party than Nigel Farage would’ve been), they have shown themselves to be an effective harvester of ‘None of the above’ voters.
Nigel Farage called the near miss a "massive boost", as the party narrowly missed getting what would have been its first seat in the Commons. Of course, Ukip can now dismiss claims that they take votes from the Conservatives. It could be said that the Conservatives split Ukip's vote on this occassion. Cameron offering a referendum certainly did not put an end to Ukip's electoral gains, as many had predicted it would.
Sadly for Tristram Hunt MP, he unknowingly gave reasons for Labour's fourth place a fortnight ago, while still predicting that their candidate could win (O'Farrell only gained 0.2 per cent of the vote on Labour's 2010 candidate):
the Labour party has too often failed to provide both a language which speaks to southern voters and a presence on the ground.
Failing to secure Eastleigh may damage Cameron, but the stability of the Liberal Democrats as a coalition partner may be reinforced. Liberal Democrats worried about losing seats as a result of the coalition may now find some comfort in defending Eastleigh.