Former Conservative MP and Shadow CLG spokesman Paul Goodman has written in the Telegraph about the state of the national party’s campaign in Eastleigh:
“…the fact that the Lib Dems hold every constituency seat on the local council. Their strength mirrors Tory weakness. With that lack of councillors comes a lack of much else: local knowledge, canvassing records, human contact with voters over emerging issues. In short, the Tory grassroots in Eastleigh are withered. Those visiting Conservative MPs and their staff are rather like special forces parachuted into a foreign country. However good their maps are, they don’t speak the language.”
By-elections have a habit of producing results which confound the expectations of national parties and this one is no different. But there is a perceived wisdom in Westminster that local politics has little or no bearing on the outcome. That local politics simply follows national trends in a passive and orderly manner. Goodman makes the very good point that without local councillors on the ground, the national parties are simply not engaging in debate with the local electorate. They do not know the latest local issue which sours or engages neighbourhoods, they will not know which evening local residents groups meet and will certainly struggle to gain access, they will not even have a basic geographic knowledge of the lie of the land.
Eastleigh will soon become psephological chip paper, yet all three parties vying to run the country come May 2015 would do well to remember, anything can happen in elections and nothing is predictable. But a solid base of committed local councillors certainly helps to reduce the odds.