Conservative activists, like the afore mentioned Tim Montgomerie, are interestingly less interested in winning the by-election and more concerned about stopping UKIP
The Eastleigh By-Election
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On the south coast of England this coming Thursday will be the culmination of another in a long line of political spectacles, commonly known as the by-election. (for Americans and some others that’s a special election) This is triggered by the vacating of a seat in the British Parliament due usually to death or corruption, and in this case most definitely the latter. Incumbent Chris Huhne, of the Liberal Democrat Party, has stood down on account of being caught speeding (in a car, not on drugs); and then successfully assigning blame to his wife.
As is often the case in British by-elections, the candidates to fill the remainder of the term range from the up and coming, to the extreme, to the utterly ludicrous. The mainstream parties however (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat) would maintain that everybody else is extreme, with leading Conservative blogger Tim Montgomerie referring to UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) as “the silly party”, this despite the fact that they are on course to finish ahead of Labour and are draining Conservative Party votes. (Sour grapes Tim?)
In addition to the 4 parties already mentioned we have, vying for any kind of recognition, another 10 candidates. There is the ever present by-election participation of the Monster Raving Loony Party who use absurdity to illustrate their point. With seemingly less point to make is the Wessex Regionalist Party, who seem to have manufactured a single issue whereas what they really want is to stand up in their pram and shake their rattle. Then there is the effervescently named Daz Proctor of TUSC (Commies), whose name is probably the brightest thing about what he represents.
The Lib.-Dems. are in the lead in the latest polling (33% average) as Mike Thornton, a local borough councilor, looks to hold on to the seat for his party. However, right-wing strength is revealed in the area as Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings (21% average) is well to the right of Prime Minister David Cameron; demanding an exit from the EU, while opposing gay-marriage and abortion rights. Despite this, the populist UKIP (18% average) threatens to finish 2nd with an increasingly diverse manifesto that wouldn’t be unpopular with Margaret Thatcher. Out of the running but gaining organization is the Christian Party, who also oppose abortion, support re-institution of the death penalty, and are pushing for 9pm curfews for 11-year-old children.
It seems likely that the Lib-Dems. will hold their seat. The bigger story continues to be the ongoing rise of UKIP. Once simply an anti-EU party committed to stopping mass immigration, they have embraced a broader manifesto and made deliberate efforts to shed themselves of racist right-wing extremists. Dissatisfaction amongst the electorate is finding a new home and they are beginning to set up shop.
The Conservative party, along with many media outlets, would contend that UKIP is simply siphoning votes from them. Surveys show however that 17% of 2010 Conservatives now support UKIP, along with 11% of Lib.Dems. and 10% of Labour 2010 voters. The message of UKIP is drawing broader appeal than many would like to admit.
Conservative activists, like the afore mentioned Tim Montgomerie, are interestingly less interested in winning the by-election and more concerned about stopping UKIP. This has taken on a similar flavour to American politics where the “establishment” of the Republican Party is more worried about image problems caused by Christians, conservatives, and the “tea-party” than they are in advancing a sensible agenda and defeating the Democrats. In fact they believe that these groups are responsible for their failures, whereas Eastleigh is demonstrating that it is establishment politics that turns off the voters.