Pick any one from three: tensions rise with Eastleigh result on a knife edge

Ukip leader Nigel Farage would be 'very disappointed' if his party came third

Whitehall Editor

The result of the Eastleigh by-election was today on a knife edge with the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Ukip all in with a chance of winning.

As voters went to the polls a survey by Survation found that the Lib Dems remain the most likely party to win the seat despite the continuing controversy surrounding that party’s former chief executive Lord Rennard.

It said Nick Clegg's party retained a “narrow advantage” over the Conservatives - however its lead was within the margin of error.

Survation also suggested support for UKIP may have been understated in previous polls and a victory or second place was a distinct possibility.

Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage said he would be “very disappointed” if his party came third.

The Conservatives had been hoping that Lib Dem voters may be put off by Mr Clegg's handling of the Lord Rennard sexual harassment allegations. However, the pollsters suggested this was unlikely.

“The ongoing media furore over allegations against Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard would seem to some to be meaningful, however, as with Chris Huhne’s resignation, the impression of politicians generally in the minds of most voters is already so negative that it is unlikely to significantly alter their perception of any particular party,” it said.

“Already UKIP is within the margin of error of the Conservatives and very slightly overlapping with the Liberal Democrats.

“In either case, UKIP are within touching distance of second place, and with reports from Eastleigh suggesting their ground game has been surprisingly organised, it is conceivable that they will pass at least one of the two main parties by polling day.”

Survation said UKIP had displaced Labour as the anti-Government party and was taking as many votes from the Liberal Democrats as from the Conservatives.

This morning, David Cameron made a last-minute plea for voters to back the Coservative candidate in the Eastleigh 

A Lib Dem win would be a major blow for the Prime Minister as his party would be unlikely to win the next general election without winning seats such as Eastleigh.

“For the right policies on immigration, welfare and the deficit, I believe the people of Eastleigh should vote for Maria Hutchings today,” he said.

Nick Clegg, who last night declared the Lib Dems are in "the cusp of a great victory" in Eastleigh, also took to the internet for some eleventh hour campaigning on behalf of his candidate Mike Thornton.

In a YouTube video, he urged Lib Dem activists to start phoning Eastleigh residents to make sure they go and vote today.

Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, tweeted that voters should support John O'Farrell because he will "stand up against the Tories and the Lib Dems to tackle the rising cost of living".

Former Tory leadership contender David Davis warned Mr Cameron would face unrest from backbenchers if the party was pushed into third place.

“Let's be clear, it's not going to dislodge David Cameron,” he told the BBC. “He's going to be there till the next election, but the simple truth is that it will make things more uncomfortable in the House of Commons.”

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