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Wednesday 20th February 2013 | 08:47
Labour don't seriously expect John O'Farrell to sweep to victory in Eastleigh. But they do think he helps the One Nation message that the party needs a proper presence in the South to have a hope of 2015 success.
Although they want Lib Dem* switchers, it seems that Labour have not gone out of their way to attack the yellows and the main focus has been on the Tories.
It seems as if their perfect scenario is a narrow Lib win, a Tory second place (fuelling the narrative that David Cameron still can't get seats he needs for a majority) and a 'decent' Labour showing.
But what counts as 'decent'?
When the Eastleigh constituency was first created in 1955, Labour got 49.32% of the vote. In 1992, when the Conservatives won the general election, Labour got 20.7%.
In the 1994 by-election, when there was a Conservative Government and Labour were the main opposition they got 27.6%. In 2005 - when Labour last won a general election - they scored 20.6%.
If Ed Miliband is to claim any sort of improvement, surely Labour should score better than the 27.6% of the vote that they got at the last by-election in 1994?
Will that be the real 'bar' the party has to clear on election night next Thursday?
*FOOTNOTE: As for the Lib Dems, few in any party are expecting the Vicky Pryce/Chris Huhne verdicts to affect the outcome. Apart from a brief spike in interest, not many voters have listed the issue as a concern in the by-election. This of course vindicates the Libs' decision to go very early for a poll, taking advantage of their superior organisation on the ground.
Tories will privately tell you they are the clear underdogs. This isn't just the usual expectations management (the party hasn't given up, especially given so many high profile Tories visiting the seat - with Boris the latest today). It sounds like they are preparing for second place and hoping to at least squeeze out UKIP.
UPDATE: Labour says the seat has undergone significant boundary changes since the '94 by-election. And that was a 3 month campaign, not a 3 week one.
On the boundary changes in particular, they pointout since '94, Woolston Ward (3 Lab councillors) has moved to Southampton Itchen.
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