Ukip could challenge Lib Dems and Tories for second 'photo finish' predicted in by-election

  • @NigelpMorris

The most critical and closely fought by-election since the general election is heading today to a dramatic finish.

All three major parties – as well as the UK Independence Party – poured resources into the battle for the Hampshire constituency of Eastleigh. The contest was triggered by the resignation of former Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne after he pleaded guilty to dodging a speeding fine.

The Liberal Democrats had been cautiously optimistic about retaining the seat until the storm erupted over claims former chief Lord Rennard sexually harassed several women. He has strongly denied the claims.

Tonight both Lib Dem and Tory sources said the result was too close to call. A senior Lib Dem predicted a “photo-finish”.

The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, who decided not to stand himself, said he would be “very disappointed” if his party only comes in third. Labour is expected to limp in fourth. The Tories’ nightmare would be a third-placed finish. David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary, said such an outcome would lead to a “crisis” for the Prime Minister.