Why Eastleigh is a laughing matter for Labour

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 15 February 2013 in Diary
Emma Burnell explains why she's bet £20 on a Labour win in Eastleigh, and why her party is finding this by election such a laugh


I've just been to the bookies.

It's not something I do very often. In fact it's something I’ve only ever done once before, betting on the result of the AV referendum (as sure a thing as I can imagine). Usually, my gambling lends itself more to online poker than the shabby insides of a betting shop.

But this week, a little flutter on a slightly more outside bet seemed appropriate. I've just been paid and can spare the £20 (though £20 more would be pushing it). So I've had a punt on Labour winning the Eastleigh by election.

Now I know this is a long shot – that's why I got such good odds (though these have been shortening). But sometimes politics ­– and betting – is about taking a punt.

Labour is really enjoying this by election. Largely because we have nothing to lose. It simply cannot be spun as a Labour failure if we don't pick up a seat largely seen as being hotly contested between the Tories and the Lib Dems. So we're having a massive laugh while throwing the kitchen sink at the campaign.

This is absolutely reflected in our brilliant candidate John O'Farrell. A quick witted and genuinely funny man whose book about being a Labour party activist is essential reading for anyone who needs cheering up after yet another rained out leaflet round – in fact, I seem to remember insisting my new boyfriend (now my long-suffering husband) read it to see what life with me would be like (he listened to the radio adaptation!).

O'Farrell is the perfect by election candidate. He will keep the press happy, inspire activists and his Have I Got News For You? performance skills will play well at hustings. He's also a true believer and a lifelong fighter of the Labour cause.

This campaign has had real life injected into it both by O'Farrell's candidacy and Ed Miliband’s announcement yesterday on tax policy. Ed has nicked the spotlight and the plaudits from both the Lib Dems and the Tories in a way neither are quite able to counter. It feels good. It lifts the heart and the spirit. It's also bloody good policy.

And you know what? That joie de vivre is really quite attractive. Perhaps voters in Eastleigh will enjoy the do-or-die spirit emanating from the Labour camp at the moment. It's a lot more interesting than either the bland or the barking options on offer from the other main parties.

By elections are a time for fun upsets. Labour is offering an alternative to the government. Those who normally vote Lib Dem – whether tactically or loyally – might see this as the perfect opportunity to send a pain-free message. Those who want to can vote tactically again at the general election, but for the next two years, there really is no difference between voting Lib Dem and voting Tory. So why vote either?

Labour is neither a sure thing for the Eastleigh by election nor for the 2015 general election. But we do – at last – seem to be enjoying taking the fight to the government. That spirit will serve us well now and in the future.

And as to my bet... stranger things have happened! 

Tags: BY ELECTION, Eastleigh, Emma Burnell, Labour

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