When I was first starting out as a barrister, my most loyal client firm of solicitors was based in Eastleigh. At least twice a year those of us who did residential possession claims used to get on the train for a social, usually at the Cricketers pub in Stoneham, near the airport. So when I went down to Eastleigh today to help Maria Hutchings’ campaign to take Chris Huhne’s seat, there was a sense of familiarity with the place.
Eastleigh town isn’t natural Conservative territory. It has become an outpost of Southampton, and the train station and its old marshalling yards are not the focus of activity that they once would have been. The town is defined by its closeness to the M27 and M3, and there is a sense of transitoriness about the place. The constituency does however include a significant amount of Hampshire countryside including the harbour town of Hamble, where the local well to do moor their boats.
Given that the outgoing MP is now facing a stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure the Conservatives initially started as the favourites, and I was delighted to see that the party is throwing the kitchen sink at this campaign. Most of CCHQ is there, and all MPs and Cabinet ministers have been ordered down (Chris Grayling and Gavin Barwell were in evidence today). The Lib Dems are equally determined not to lose and see this as a town which they “own”. The number of blue and yellow posters is about equal.
The campaign is getting tasty too. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dens are putting out leaflets pointing out that it is a two horse race, but the Conservative leaflets clearly show our greatest concern – the impact of UKIP. They have taken over from the Liberals as the repository of the protest vote. A large vote for them will almost certainly deliver the seat back to the Liberals. Ultimately, if you are a Eurosceptic and serious about politics you have to vote Conservative. We are the only party to offer a straight in / out referendum and frankly with that there is no earthly reason any more to vote UKIP. The greatest tragedy tomorrow will be if the Liberals beat the Conservatives, with a majority that is smaller than the UKIP vote.