Do Peel Holdings have the voters of Eastleigh to thank for the government go ahead for the massive Liverpool Waters project?
The decision not to hold a public inquiry is a clear sign that ministers are pinning their hopes on infrastructure growth to get us out of this economic malaise. While it’s true that it will be years before the scheme is completed, the government want to create a sense of momentum and confidence with projects like the Northern Hub, High Speed Rail and Liverpool Waters.
The other reaction has been for some Tory ministers to flirt with ever more right wing policies in the face of the UKIP advance. The suggestion that the UK might quit the European Court of Human Rights is a disgrace. The spectacle of the country that stood alone in the Second World War to preserve democracy and liberty, quitting the institution that protects those freedoms is deeply depressing. It would have unforeseen consequences at home and abroad would send all the wrong signals to countries where attachment to democratic values is tenuous.
I forecast that the Lib Dems would hold Eastleigh, but that was before the accusations came up about Lord Rennard. Given that and the fact that the by election was caused by the lies of Chris Huhne. Neither of these issues prevented the Lib Dems holding on. Of course this was an ideal seat for them to defend, nevertheless it does suggest that people care less and less about the scandals of the Westminster village and more and more about practical local issues that affect them.
It is all part of the huge disengagement people feel with conventional politics. The scale of the disenchantment is now becoming clear whether it be a stand up comedian doing well in the Italian elections or UKIP in Eastleigh. Heaven knows what the American public are making of the continued deadlock between the President and the House of Representatives. I raised this issue with Jack Straw the other day given his long experience in high office and as MP for Blackburn since 1979. He had no clear answer to my question as to when people might trust their politicians again. He did agree with me that apart from issues like expenses and poor moral behaviour, the continuing recession meant that politicians can no longer promise a visionary future of prosperity because they just would not be believed.
So where do the parties stand after Eastleigh. Nick Clegg gets a reprieve and the Coalition remains stable but Eastleigh was an ideal seat for them and they won’t be able to put in that massive effort across the country where their poll ratings remain weak.
UKIP are on a surge. They have been accused of being a one man band in the shape of leader Nigel Farage, but I thought their Eastleigh candidate, Diane James, was the best of the bunch. Now they face the challenge of the county council elections. What are UKIP’s policies for running Lancashire County Council?
Tory backbench reaction remained muted after coming third, but backbenchers remain unhappy with David Cameron and a flat budget might see a summer of discontent.
Labour didn’t try in Eastleigh, putting up a candidate who had made highly offensive remarks about Margaret Thatcher. They are still blamed for the economic mess and need to start fleshing out their proposals for the future more.