After a week or so, the all-purpose political metaphor that is Richard III ought to have breathed its last.
Sadly, it hasn’t.
Chris Riddell’s editorial cartoon for today’s Observer is one more death-rattle:
Paul Goodman, who should also know better, entertains the stupid party through today’s Sunday Times [£], with a similar meme in his assonant Blue on yellow: it will be beastly in Eastleigh:
Even Conservative MPs who are sympathetic to Cameron are viewing Downing Street’s dysfunctionality with bewilderment. And any voter benefit that the prime minister may have won from the first budget cut in the European Union’s history will have evaporated by polling day.
I don’t believe Eastleigh will prove to be another Eastbourne [the October 1990 by-election, won by the Lib Dems, which contributed to Thatcher's unseating]. For while a core of irreconcilables would like to see Cameron buried beneath a car-park for several hundred years, like some latter-day Richard III, he has no obvious successor — in the Commons, at least (although Boris Johnson lurks outside). However, poor results in the local elections in May could put the prospect of a leadership challenge back on the table.
Rather laboured, don’t you feel?
Except, in that article, Goodman knocks off Labour in two sentences, and that in a bracketed aside:
(Ed Miliband’s interest will surely be focused on inflicting maximum damage on Cameron. It follows that he will want his party, a distant third three years ago, to lie low and not filch support from left-leaning former Lib Dem voters.)
The other side of the hedge, back at the Observer, that’s exactly what Andrew Rawnsley reckons, devoting his whole article to:
It is too early for Labour to write off its chances in Eastleigh
Ed Miliband’s party shouldn’t just jeer from the byelection ringside as the Tories and the Lib Dems slug it out
Where Malcolm sits, Rawnsley is by far the more observant, and has a better grasp of the history:
At first glance, Labour has no chance. On the party’s list of target seats, Eastleigh is number 258. Yet Labour cannot afford to sit it out and just jeer from the ringside as the coalition parties slug it out. Ed Miliband now likes to style himself as the leader of the “One Nation” party. He declares that Labour is recovering support in southern England. So he must be seen to be trying to win here. And is it quite such a hopeless prospect for Labour as most people, including the bookies, are assuming? At the general elections of 1955 and 1966, Labour came within fewer than 1,000 votes of winning Eastleigh. Admittedly, the shape of the seat and its demographics have changed considerably since then, but more recent elections also suggest that Labour should not entirely write off its chances. The last time there was a byelection in the seat, in 1994, Labour came second, ahead of the Tories, with more than 27% of the vote. At the 1997 general election, Labour achieved a similar score.
In 2010 it didn’t make sense for Labour to throw resources against Huhne. A 10% return on minimal investment was acceptable — and it was a seat denied the Tories. Not this time. All previous outings suggest there is a natural 25% Labour vote here. With a few more LibDems switching against the ConDem coalition (and Lib Dems happily split allegiances between local and national polls), with a few more plaguing both houses and staying at home, with a bit of natural disgust at ConDem in-fighting, with UKIP picking up disaffected Tories, and with a few more Labour feet on the streets, the 25% Labour vote is rock-bottom. The blue sky of a three-way marginal is the limit.
Rawnsley, unlike Goodman, has done the demographics:
This is not posh Hampshire. Benny Hill is Eastleigh’s most famous product. While it is hardly one of the most impoverished parts of Britain, nor is this former railway town a place that oozes privilege and easy wealth. The typical Eastleigh voter will be first- or second-generation home-owners feeling a painful decline in their living standards and worrying what the future holds for their children. These are the classic “squeezed middle” voters whom all the parties identify as crucial. These are voters whom Labour must aspire to represent if it is serious about forming the next government.
Precisely. To which could be appended: these are voters with no great reason to feel gratitude to either faction in the government. It is also suburban Southampton: not, one might feel, the place where contact with the Continent is most scorned — and the Tory lady does seem a dodgy prospect under close scrutiny for the next three weeks. We can bet on one thing: she will be closely minded.
No, you read it here first
Rawnsley’s closing is this:
A Labour win in Eastleigh seems hugely unlikely to most people today. Because it would be so unexpected, it would be a spectacular result for Ed Miliband and a shocking humiliation for both the coalition parties. If it happens, remember you read it here first. If it doesn’t, forget I ever mentioned it.
For Labour, it is anyway better to fight and lose than not to fight at all. For the Tories and the Lib Dems, only victory will do.
Which is what Malcolm has been suggesting, here and elsewhere, for some time.