Eastleigh Labour Party have so far it seems, been conducting a quiet “grassroots” campaign focusing on the doorstep in contrast to the resources the National party poured into the town during the 2013 by-election.
This time round there has so far been little in the way of high profile visitors and stage-managed photo opportunities in the town.
Locally, Labour is clearly concentrating on holding on to its two Southampton seats, particularly Southampton Itchen where Rowenna Davis is defending retiring MP John Denham’s slender 192 vote majority over former Conservative Southampton City Council Leader Royston Smith.
In the by-election, although both the coalition parties lost vote share to Ukip, the Labour vote, which had been declining for some time, actually rose slightly and although the party finished fourth they will be hoping they have reached a bed rock of support which they can start to build on.
Eastleigh Labour activists also appear happy that with the national party focused elsewhere they are now able to field a local candidate in Mark Latham.
Mark Latham is a local small business owner, lives in Hamble and is married with two young children.
His family has lived in the Hamble and Netley area for over 20 years and he has lived at his current Hamble home for the last ten.
As a young man Latham dropped out of Oxford but later gained a Business Masters degree through the Open University.
Latham says he has worked in both the private and pubic sector, a charity and has run his own media and publishing business specializing in the business and financial sectors, both at home and in emerging markets like Russia and China.
Prior to the start of the campaign this year, Mark Latham met up with local reporters to talk about the issues that motivate him.
Although he says he is by nature a ‘small c’ Conservative he says he is standing for the Labour party because “they have strong clear values on the things that matter to people in this country”.
Latham said he has been drawn to politics because he is interested in issues surrounding democracy and enfranchisement – he thinks there has to be more participation through a higher turnout at the polls for the system to be truly democratic.
“What motivates me about democracy is explaining to people what difference their vote can make and getting them to vote as much as which particular colour they should pick on the day”.
“But the biggest constituency in Eastleigh at the moment is ‘I don’t vote’”.
Latham says he is especially concerned that the coalition government are implementing changes to the way the Electoral roll is compiled.
Householder registration is giving way to individual voter registration and Latham says this will result in an estimated 8,500 people falling off the register in Eastleigh.
Those affected will have to re-register and he believes this could disadvantage those without internet access.
“Now we wont just have ‘I don’t vote’, we will also have ‘I can’t vote’”.
Latham also says the use by rivals of ‘Orwellian language’ inspired him to pursue a career in politics.
As an example he cited politicians who claim they will ‘save the NHS’ when in fact, he says, what they really mean is they are going implement cuts.
On the subject of the recent strong local performance of Ukip, Latham thinks their result in the by-election and the Euros was due to a protest vote.
“Ukip won the popular vote in the Euro-Elections but didn’t win a seat in the Borough election so that meant people went in and voted for the politicians they wanted to see in power close to them – and then voted in a completely different way in a protest vote.
People are constantly being told ‘the EU is bad for you, doesn’t do anything for you, wants to change the size of your cucumbers or the shape of your bananas’ and people’s reaction is ‘I’ll give Ukip my vote – that’s my V-sign to all of the establishment, to all of the powerful”.
On that basis both Farage and Diane James decided they couldn’t win a parliamentary election in Eastleigh and pulled out from standing here”.
The reason Ukip also poll well here is because there is a lot of confusion among Conservative voters locally.
You could argue they had a weak candidate against a very strong Liberal Democrat in the past but by anyone’s analysis this seat is now a marginal”.
Planning issues are now a major source of contention for many residents across the constituency, where does he stand on the issue?
“The Labour party have a policy saying we are going to build half-a-million homes by 2025 – you have to temper that with the fact that Eastleigh has three times the average population density in the South East”.
It’s a bit like boiling a frog. You haven’t noticed it but huge amounts of development have happened here, a lot of in the last three or four years”.
There are a lot of planning applications going in because we don’t have a local plan which means that if refused developers can automatically appeal to the planning inspectorate and get planning permission”.
That’s not just a local issue but a reflection of how you deal with a policy on a national issue. One of the things you have to be able to say as an MP is ‘actually we need to stop building in this place as it already has a population density in towns and villages that are getting on for three or four times the national average’”.
Latham is not impressed with the record of sitting Liberal Democrat MP Mike Thornton on issues like planning.
Although Latham describes his Lib Dem rival as someone ‘who seems like a nice guy’ he also describes him as a ‘surprised politician’.
“Mike Thornton has been thrust into a position in which he is neither very confident or very competent.
It very important to make things relevant, but it’s not the job of the local MP to go around talking about potholes”.
The Labour hopeful said:
“This is an election that is as much about politics as about policy – it’s about how we manage democracy and make it work.
I believe in polices that are to designed to help the majority of people not just the elite”.
Mark Latham was speaking to Lauren Clarke and Stephen Slominski at the Coffee One Café