Labour fears it will limp in fourth in next week’s Eastleigh by-election, dealing a blow to Ed Miliband’s efforts to project it as the “one nation” party.
Despite selecting a relatively high-profile candidate, Labour has struggled to build momentum in the Hampshire constituency, party sources have acknowledged.
A Populus poll in The Times today puts the Liberal Democrats on 33 per cent, the Conservatives on 28 per cent, Ukip on 21 per cent and Labour on 11 per cent.
Mr Miliband has underlined the contest’s importance to the party by campaigning in the seat. One of his closest allies, Sadiq Khan, insisted last week: “We need a good turnout in Eastleigh or it would give the impression there are no-go areas for Labour.”
The party hoped to give its vote a fillip by choosing the comic writer John O’Farrell as its candidate and aimed to pick up support from former Liberal Democrat voters disillusioned with the Coalition Government. But a source conceded: “Parties who are a bit behind tend to get squeezed after the first week of the campaign. That appears to be happening to us.”
Bookmakers concur over the health of Labour’s campaign and are backing Ukip to come third.
A fourth-place finish for Labour would raise fresh questions about its ability to reach out to parts of the South that have become immune to the party’s charms. It came second in the last Eastleigh by-election, in 1994, and as recently as 2005 was picking up one-fifth of the vote in the seat.
Labour is already getting its excuses in first, pointing out that it has lost some of the constituency’s most Labour-leaning areas to neighbouring Southampton Itchen.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats won a landslide council by-election victory at North Norfolk District. Candidate Andreas Yiasimi won at Cromer Town on a huge swing from the Tories, who were pushed into fourth place.
l Ukip suffered an embarrassing blow last night when one of its MEPs defected to the Conservatives. Marta Andreasen has described Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, of being “anti-women” and “a Stalinist”.