Chris Huhne has denied that he owes his election victory in Eastleigh to tactical voting by Labour supporters and has said he does not fear a backlash from them in the next election.
The Eastleigh MP who is due to speak at the Liberal Democrat party conference today, was debating in a fringe meeting was responding to a question from the floor regarding the parties’ future electoral prospects.
A Lib Dem activist suggested that the party owed their electoral success to their ability to squeeze the Labour vote and cited Eastleigh as a good example of this. He claimed that the Lib Dems are most successful where there is an anti Tory majority present in a seat and feared that participation in the conservative coalition would have a serious impact on them in the next election.
However Mr Huhne disputed that he had won due to anti conservative sentiment in Eastleigh and said he ascribed his success to the popularity of Liberal Democrat policies, Nick Clegg’s TV performance and his own record as a constituency MP.
Mr Huhne’s apparent dismissal of labour support appears to fly in the face of the evidence and follows a statement from Nick Clegg suggesting that Labour voters should not vote Lib Dem as an alternative left wing choice.
In the May election Mr Huhne gained an extra 5000 votes while the Labour Party vote collapsed by 5000 votes.
Analysis of previous election results suggest up to 10,000 voters, 40% of Mr Huhne’s support, are former Labour voters. A proportion of them will be voting tactically and much of the copious election material that was delivered by the Liberal Democrats acknowledged this by targeting Labour voters who were repeatedly told ‘Labour can’t win here’.
Following the election the defeated Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings attributed her loss to Labour voters switching tactically under Lib Dem pressure and pointed to leaflets some of which featured Dan Clarke, Labour’s former candidate in Eastleigh, who had a well publicised defection to the Liberal Democrats.
In the flyers Mr Clarke appealed directly to his former supporters and colleagues saying “all Labour voters in Eastleigh should back Chris Huhne at this election” while another leaflet – designed to resemble a Labour leaflet – advised Labour voters “David Cameron wants you to vote Labour at the general election as he knows they cannot win.”
Mr Huhne told the meeting that he believed the introduction of the AV voting system would eliminate the need for tactical voting, describing AV as:
“A system which allows people to vote positively for the party that they want rather than negatively against the party that they fear”
He also went on to say that if the AV system was not adopted by the next election than there would also be Conservatives tactically voting Lib Dem in order to prevent a Labour win – a statement that could be seen to give credence to recent rumours that the Conservatives had agreed not to contest Liberal Democrat marginal seats.
Earlier, Mr Huhne started the debate with a well received speech and was in a clearly confident mood which lead fellow panellist and former Labour minister Andrew Adonis to remark:
“Chris Huhne is more certain about everything then I am of anything”
The leader of Liberal Democrat Eastleigh Council, Keith House was also present at the meeting.
“Chris Huhne in cracking form: intelligent, confident, witty” he gushed in a tweet which would also have been sent to – Chris Huhne!
Hear Mr Huhne discuss the election and tactical voting here: