Britain goes to the polls: Stay-away Tories aid opponents in Eastleigh: Only 14 per cent of electors vote for party of Government, Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN REID, the genial Tory candidate for the Eastleigh by-election, made much of the fact that he had consistently run a 'positive' campaign.

As erstwhile Conservatives stayed away from the polls in their droves, the cruel upshot was not only to reduce John Major's Commons majority to 15 but also to help Labour snatch second.

That noteworthy achievement involved not so much Labour driving the Tories into third place as the Tories driving themselves. Just 14 per cent of the 94,005 registered electors could bring themselves to vote for the party of Government.

One bizarre consequence of the near-panic caused by the events of Thursday night was the claim that the Liberal Democrat 'bandwagon' was somehow grinding to a halt because David Chidgey's 9,239 majority was lower than last year's mega-victories at Newbury and Christchurch.

But this more modest but wholly creditable performance has only to be compared to the depths of despair to which Eastleigh Conservatives have been brought.

David Willetts, Tory MP for nearby Havant, who handled the daily press conferences, did his best yesterday, insisting that those 'unhappy' Conservatives who had stayed at home had not been converted to the cause of liberal democracy, still less to Labour. 'Winning them back from a position of absention is easier.'

Despite a 564 numerical drop in Labour's vote, John Denham, MP for neighbouring Southampton Itchen told yesterday's conference that the respective shares of vote - Liberal Democrat 44.3 per cent, Labour 27.6, Tory 24.8 - meant Labour could capture key southern seats (though not Eastleigh) where they are second to the Tories by 1,000 or less.

Even he was frank enough, however, to end Labour's 'fighting to win' campaign by saying: 'I think our great success was to avoid collapse of the Labour vote that was so widely predicted.'

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the result would 'set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street . . . the Liberal Democrats are turning Tory heartlands into Tory wastelands.'

There is little doubt about the alarm bells but there was not quite such a ready answer when Mr Ashdown was questioned over his party's tendency to place great store on being second for the purposes of moving on to future victories - a position Labour can likewise legitimately claim and which could ultimately lead to the evaporation of Liberal Democrat dreams of sharing power in a hung Parliament after the next election.

'It's an interesting thought,' he replied.

A Labour aide said: 'Supporters in our target seats can now vote Labour with confidence. The Liberal Democrats can win all the other seats in the south but we will have an overall majority.'

While that battle remains to be played out in ever more fascinating detail, particularly once Labour elects its new leader, the Conservative catastrophe cannot be under-estimated. Mr Willetts said it all yesterday: 'We face political recovery lagging behind economic recovery.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- BRADFORD SOUTH ----------------------------------------------------------------- Ronnie Farley (C). . . . . . . . . . . . . .5,475 Gerry Sutcliffe (Lab). . . . . . . . . . . 17,014 Helen Wright (LD). . . . . . . . . . . . . .7,350 Keith Laycock (Nat Law). . . . . . . . . . . .187 Lord Sutch (Loony). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 727 Lab majority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9,664 Turnout 45% General election, 1992: Bob Cryer (Lab) 25,185; Andrew Popat (C) 20,283; Brian Boulton (LD) 7,243; Mohammad Naseem (Islamic) 156. Lab maj 4,902. ----------------------------------------------------------------- BARKING ----------------------------------------------------------------- Theresa May (C). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,976 Margaret Hodge (Lab). . . . . . . . . . . .13,704 Garry White (LD). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,290 Gerard Batten (UK Indep). . . . . . . . . . . 406 Heather Butensky (Nat Law). . . . . . . . . . .90 Garry Needs (Nat Front). . . . . . . . . . . .551 Lab majority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11,414 Turnout 38.58% General election, 1992: Jo Richardson (Lab) 18,224; John Kennedy (C) 11,956; Steve Churchman (LD) 5,133. Lab maj 6,268. ----------------------------------------------------------------- NEWHAM NORTH EAST ----------------------------------------------------------------- Philip Hammond (C). . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,850 Stephen Timms (Lab). . . . . . . . . . . . 14,668 Alec Kellaway (LD). . . . . . . . . . . . . . 821 Richard Archer (Nat Law). . . . . . . . . . . 228 Vida Garman (Buy Daily Sport). . . . . . . . .155 Jo Homeless (House Homeless). . . . . . . . . 342 Anthony Scholefield (UK Indep). . . . . . . . 509 Lab majority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11,818 Turnout 35.37% General election, 1992: Ron Leighton (Lab) 20,952; Jeremy Galbraith (C) 10,966; Jonathan Aves (Lib Dem) 4,020. Lab maj 9,986. ----------------------------------------------------------------- EASTLEIGH ----------------------------------------------------------------- Stephen Reid (C). . . . . . . . . . . . . .13,675 Marilyn Birks (Lab). . . . . . . . . . . . 15,234 David Chidgey (LD). . . . . . . . . . . . .24,473 Lord David Sutch (Loony). . . . . . . . . . . 783 Nigel Farage (UK Indep). . . . . . . . . . . .952 Peter Warburton (Nat Law). . . . . . . . . . .145 Lib Dem majority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9,239 Turnout 58.9% General election, 1992: Stephen Milligan (C) 38,998; David Chidgey (LD) 21,296; Jo Sugrue (Lab) 15,768. C maj 17,702 ----------------------------------------------------------------- DAGENHAM ----------------------------------------------------------------- James Fairrie (C). . . . . . . . . . . . . .2,130 Judith Church (Lab). . . . . . . . . . . . 15,474 Peter Dunphy (LD). . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,804 Peter Compobassi (UK Indep). . . . . . . . . .457 Mark Leighton (Nat Law). . . . . . . . . . . .116 John Tyndall (BNP). . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,511 Lab majority. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13,344 Turnout 37.2% General election, 1992: Bryan Gould (Lab) 22,027; Don Rossiter (C) 15,294; Charles Marquand (LD) 4,824. Lab maj 6,733 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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