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Eastleigh held by Lib Dems as Ukip surge

The Liberal Democrats have narrowly held Eastleigh at the by-election, while Ukip moved into second place.

Lib Dem councillor Mike Thornton won with a majority of 1,771 and secured 13,342 votes compared to Ukip’s 11,571. The Conservatives’ Maria Hutchings came in third with 10,559 votes and Labour’s John O’Farrell was fourth with 4,088.

Turnout was 52.8 %. The Lib Dem share of the vote fell by 14.5% on 2010, the Ukip share rose 24.2 %, the Tories was down 14% and Labour up by 0.2%.

The victory follows a challenging period for the Lib Dems, with former MP Chris Huhne resigning and facing a prison sentence for asking his wife to take his speeding points. Deputy PM Nick Clegg has also faced severe media criticism over his handling of sex harassment allegations involving ex-chief executive Lord Rennard.

Lib Dem party president Tim Farron said: “This is a staggering result and the people who had written us off will have egg all over their faces. It will be a turning point in this parliament and that we are in a position to win this seat completely changes the narrative of the parliament.

“We've had thousands of people down here to help. I've had people who had left because of the coalition rejoin for Eastleigh. It has been immense. The message to Tory and Labour is come and have a go if you want. We'll have you in our backyard. We're here to stay.

“Nick's position is much strengthened not just in the party but in the country as well. The idea that the Liberal Democrats are going like lambs to the slaughter is not true.”

The growing popularity of Ukip presents concern for the Conservatives and may reinforce calls from the backbenches for a tougher right-wing agenda to win back voters.

The Ukip candidate, Diane James, said: “The result was momentous. Three weeks ago we said we wanted to create a four-way marginal what we have done is create a two-way marginal. To have come from absolutely nowhere to achieve that is a fantastic result.”

But Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: “All the evidence is that in two and a half years, things can change. We have to redouble our efforts so by the next general election we have a story to tell about the global race for Britain, and how the Conservative party is leading the charge to ensure we are in the right place on the issues that matter, including the ones about which Ukip voters are concerned.”

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Image c. Chris Ison/PA Wire/Press Association Images


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