By Dr Alexandra Kelso, Senior Lecturer in Politics
The imminent Eastleigh by-election has been billed in the media as one of the most significant contests of its kind in recent British political history. I appeared on BBC Radio Five Live’s Drive programme this evening to discuss it, and highlight the high stakes involved for the main parties. This is the first by-election since 2010 in which the two coalition parties are the main challengers, and each would sorely like to win. For the Conservatives, a victory against their LibDem coalition partners would be hugely welcomed by restless Tory backbenchers, while Nick Clegg sorely needs a victory after some rotten by-election performances and rumblings about his leadership. Labour aren’t really contenders, and only a massive electoral upset would see them victorious, but the party would like to improve on their 9.6% performance in the constituency in 2010; they polled around 25% of the vote in the previous two general elections, so any percentage gain will be seized upon as evidence of a Labour revival. And for UKIP, they will similarly want to increase vote share on the back of some impressive recent by-election efforts: they got 22% in Rotherham last November, where they came second (they were also second in Middlesbrough and will be keen to keep the momentum going. The smart money seems increasingly to be on a LibDem hold for the constituency, and if that happens, it will largely be down to some deeply embedded local organization bolstered by strong LibDem representation on the local council. And it will prompt a lot of discussion about how coalition government affects voter behavior, and whether votes are willing to punish parties for the shortcomings of their individual MPs.