Con Dem Nation

Chris Huhne, Eastleigh 2010 General Election

‘Judas’.

That was the verdict delivered by a Labour voter on the community website ‘Hedgeendpeople’ on the news that Eastleigh’s re-elected MP Chris Huhne had negotiated himself a position in the Conservative cabinet as Energy Secretary.

Faced with defending a majority of only 568, Eastleigh’s Liberal Democrats had campaigned hard to encourage tactical voting among the 10,000 voters who had supported Labour last time out.

Claiming Labour could not win in Eastleigh and that only a Lib Dem vote could prevent a Conservative government, they were able to increase Chris Huhne’s majority by almost 4,000 votes reducing the Labour vote by a similar amount.

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Even the Labour Party supporting tabloid ‘The Daily Mirror’ had urged Eastleigh’s Labour voters to back Chris Huhne.

Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire argued:

“The best way to stop Cameron is to build a progressive, anti-Tory alliance. In Labour seats, Lib Dems should lend their votes to Brown. In Lib Dem seats, Labourites should back Clegg.”

During the course of the campaign Gordon Brown and cabinet ministers Lord Adonis and Ed Balls had also made statements in support of tactical voting and there seemed to be the general expectation that in the event of a hung Parliament there would be what Kevin Maguire had referred to as a ‘progressive alliance’ between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.

However, in the event, the alliance formed was between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats with Mr Huhne as a key negotiator.

Brian Norgate, Eastleigh’s sole remaining Labour councillor, had this to say:

“People are shocked at how easy this coalition agreement was put together – this is not ‘New Politics’ this is short sighted self interest”

“Two parties that are opposed to each other spent less time negotiating the post election manifesto then they had spent on putting their own manifestos together”

“I have had complaints from Labour supporters spoken to by Chris Huhne – who told them they were wasting a vote if they voted Labour.

The common complaint is they would have voted Labour if they knew that Chris Huhne, within 24 hours of being elected, would be negotiating for a coalition with the Tories”

This sentiment seemed to be reflected by Andy, a disappointed Labour supporter from the Pirelli estate who forwarded to Eastleigh News a copy of an email he had sent to Mr Huhne in which he had written:

“Many of us saw that voting Liberal Democrat was a viable alternative to Labour. That your party held high the morals and aspirations of us Labour voters. That you were not a mini Tory party which is out to conserve and protect the status quo which is heavily canted against the working man and the socially deprived classes.

…It seems, sadly, that the vote was, indeed, a wasted one.”

Eastleigh News also contacted Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings- who declined to comment on the coalition, however a Conservative activist said:

“It’s disappointing to have lost in Eastleigh as we fought hard and ran a clean campaign. I have some sympathy for all the Labour voters who voted Lib Dem. The lesson is when you decide to vote tactically – you don’t always get the result you want.”

Lib Dem supporter and local activist Sam Snook said although he wasn’t happy with the Liberal Democrats being in a coalition with the Conservatives he would still vote Lib Dem.

“I don’t expect the coalition to last – I wouldn’t expect any alliance with the Conservatives to last but I will still continue to support the Lib Dems and in Particular Chris Huhne because I believe they are strong on local issues and for me, local issues are very important”

However another local activist Matthew Myatt warned:

“Being a minister will now mean less time spent by Chris Huhne in Eastleigh, meeting real Eastleigh people and dealing with local issues.”

Leader of Eastleigh’s Liberal Democrats, Keith House said:

“We’ll have to see what comes out of the national coalition but I’m very positive about it – the vast majority of voters backed either the Lib Dems or the Conservatives and both parties are getting a lot of their policy put into place.”

When asked if the new spirit of co-operation between the Lib Dems and the Tories in government would be reflected in the council chamber Mr House replied:

“I can’t see this will have any impact on local council relationships between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats – we don’t really have a common agenda on the big issues locally around development, the Rose Bowl, and local area working.”

Photo: Peter Stewart

How do you view the new coalition government – a hasty marriage of convenience or the dawn of a new era in British politics?

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