David Cameron needs to stand up for what he really believes in after Eastleigh humiliation


Related Topics

Eastleigh was a humiliation for the Tories. It was so disastrous that party spokespeople were not even pretending there were silver linings in their dark clouds of despair.

The question now is whether the leadership learns the lessons of this crushing defeat. If it fails to do so, the Hampshire railway town could become an important political landmark alongside the names of epoch-defining by-elections of the past.

There is a tendency in politics to get overexcited by the drama of events that rapidly fade into the distance. Voters protest against governing parties at by-elections and while one half of the coalition won, both parties saw their share of the vote fall by similar levels. But Eastleigh feels different. As one influential Conservative told me yesterday, the party is not just fighting to win the next election but for survival in a volatile world.

The Liberal Democrats pulled off an astounding triumph, given the backdrop of falling national polls, a criminal Cabinet minister and sex pest claims. It shows the power of incumbency, especially with a decent local candidate and well-drilled forces on the ground – the solitary crumb of comfort the Conservatives as largest party can draw from this bleak ballot.

Labour flopped in a seat they came second in once under an unpopular Conservative prime minister. They should have picked up protest votes against the Coalition. Instead, they suffered from woeful lack of credibility on the economy.

But the key story is the surge of Ukip. At Corby last November they won 14 per cent of the vote, at Rotherham two weeks later 22 per cent, and now at Eastleigh 28 per cent. Their policies are absurd, with promises of tax cuts for all while boosting pensions, building prisons and reintroducing student grants. But this is a party of protest, whether people are angered by bankers’ bonuses or benefit “scroungers”, and they benefit from the anti-politics mood that has erupted in Europe by touching every disaffected nerve.

The critical Conservative mistake is to combat this insurgency by moving onto Ukip terrain, which merely reinforces the enemy’s message. For the past month there have been endless attempts to grab headlines with tough talk on immigration – apart from the Prime Minister’s jaunt to India to undo the damage caused by this stance. In Eastleigh, the campaign focused on the deficit, Europe, welfare and immigration – a strategy dictated by new campaign chief Lynton Crosby. Incredibly, some literature even mimicked Ukip colours.

Eastleigh proves it is pointless for Conservatives to present themselves as Ukip Lite. If voters want Ukip, they choose the real thing. The Tories must focus on the electorate’s daily concerns – above all, the economy, but also the cost of living, housing shortages, the greedy behaviour of corporate cartels and salvaging our education and health systems. The unvarnished Maria Hutchings could have given voice to such issues had she not been cast in a Sarah Palin role.

It is especially daft to drift to the right when fighting for a Liberal Democrat seat. The dismal campaign underlines the mistake of hiring Crosby, whose toots on the dog whistle failed again, just as they failed in the past even before the rise of Ukip.

David Cameron needs to offer voters authenticity, competence and consistency – which means being true to himself as an optimistic modern Conservative rather than listening to siren voices of the misanthropic right. His party’s plummet in the polls began when he caved in to their demands to cut taxes on the rich.

Mr Cameron had a sensible strategy that united the party at last year’s conference, since when it has been subsumed beneath short-term tactical forays designed to see off Ukip. As Eastleigh shows, this approach will never work. He can only defeat the anti-politics alliance and the unappeasable right with a government confronting the real challenges of the age. He must face the future not the past, governing in the name of the hard-pressed majority rather than seeking to win over a shrill disaffected minority.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea