Read the full
story here
and the extraordinary

23.12 John Denham is getting Labour’s excuses in early: he says fewer
than one in ten people voted Labour last time and says there has been “little
organisation for some time” in the local party.

23.07 If Cameron falls short, Iain
Martin writes
it is because the Britain right is split – and he is
doing little to keep it together.

Cameron needs every single vote on which he can lay his hands. Taking on big
parts of your own potential vote by dragging millions more into 40p tax,
dropping the inheritance tax promise and removing child benefit from some
families makes no sense. That is to say nothing of picking a fight on gay

23.00 James Chapman, the Political Editor of the Daily Mail, tweets: “One
Tory source insists first indications from count are ‘it is very much a
three-horse race.” None of those horses, we can assume, are Labour.

22.50 Rowena Mason writes:

source tells me it looks like the Liberal Democrats have won the postal
votes, closely followed by the Tories, with Ukip quite a way behind.
However, the feeling is that Ukip has done really very well in votes on the
day. Lib Dems still seem fairly confident.

More than 14,200 postal votes were issued and more than 73 per cent of
these were returned. The total electorate is just over 79,000.

22.45 Question Time is from Eastleigh tonight.

What for the speculation the Huhne affair would harm the Lib Dems? One
audience member wishes Chris Huhne was standing again, as he supports his
stance on green energy and climate change. “He was a person of great

And Ken Loach, the film director, says: “The Westminster tittle-tattle we
listen to just puts people off politics.” Loud applause.

22.35 And what of Labour?

Lord Ashcroft had the party polling at 19 per cent on 5th February, days after
Chris Huhne left Parliament. Twenty days later, they were on 12 per cent.
The party fielded John O’Farrell, the comedian and author. He has attracted
criticism for expressing disappointment that Margaret
Thatcher survived the IRA bombing of Brighton
(“clearly not
funny”, said Labour’s Sadique Khan; “youthful musings”, said
the Guardian.)

he is the least of the party’s troubles, writes Dan Hodges:

The biggest problem Eastleigh exposes is Labour’s lack of political
direction. Ed Miliband has a One Nation slogan, but he isn’t pursuing a One
Nation strategy. Since his election, Miliband’s priority had been to earn
the support and trust of his party, rather than the wider electorate. And in
that he’s been broadly successful. But while that has created a lot of
enthusiasm amongst his activists, it isn’t translating into enthusiasm
amongst the voters.

The Question Time audience are split on O’Farrell. “Fallible and funny,”
says one voter. “The most vile thing I’ve ever read,” says another
– who subsequently admits being a Lib Dem candidate.

22.30 Verification underway at the moment – but no actual counting.

22.10 The first ballot boxes have arrived at the count taking place
just outside Eastleigh town centre, says Political Correspodent Rowena

The latest guidance is that we’re expecting a result by 2am at the
earliest. Recounts could mean it drags on until at least 4am.

Ukip is warning it is very likely to demand a recount if it comes third.
The other parties would surely demand one if Ukip looks set to take second
or even first place.

The count is underway

22.00 Polls have now closed.

21.50 What’s going to happen tonight?

The most likely scenario, most analysts believe, is a Liberal Democrat
The most recent polling by Lord Ashcroft has put the Lib Dems on
33 per cent, the Tories on 28 per cent, Ukip on 21 per cent and Labour
trailling in fourth place at 12 per cent. They are traditional beneficiaries
of by-elections, have a strong ground operation, dominate the local council
and are the firm bookies’ favourite.

Less likely is a Tory victory – thanks a to a collapse in Lib Dem
support. February has been the cruellest month for Nick Clegg, with the
conviction of Huhne followed by the Lord Rennard sex scandal. The Tories
would have to overcome a 3,864 majority with a swing of 3.7 per cent.

Losing a Lib Dem stronghold such as Eastleigh would present a leadership
crisis for Clegg and raise questions as to his handling of the Rennard
scandal. The Lib Dems have not lost a seat in a by-election since 1957
(Carmarthen, to Labour) – a moment regarded as the nadir of the Twentieth
century Liberal party.

But do the public care about Nick Clegg’s troubles? According to Survation: “The
impression of politicians generally in the minds of most voters is already
so negative that it is unlikely to significantly alter their perception of
any particular party.”

But if there is a beneficiary of this anti-Government and anti-politics
sentiment, it is Ukip. And if anything, Survation claim, their support has
been under-reported because some pollsters still include the party
under the ‘other’ category.

If they come second, and leave the Tories in third place, it would be a
“crisis” for David Cameron,
David Davis said this week. “I
think if we came third it would be a crisis, I think that’s the case, and if
it’s a close second with UKIP on our tail it will also be uncomfortable,”
he said. David Cameron’s announcement of a referedum on EU membership and
his success in cutting the EU budget was read as a bid to spike Ukip’s

Finally, Ukip supporters have dared to dream this week of a fourth scenario,
in which the party takes its first seat in the Commons. The polls would have
to be wildly out, and few pundits think it likely. But Survation boldly
claimed this morning: “The possibility that they could pull off a
surprise outside victory, as George Galloway did in Bradford West a year
ago, should not be entirely discounted.”

21.40 Our graphics team has prepared a guide to all you need to know
about Eastleigh
(home to B&Q and Colin Firth and twinned with Villeneuve-Saint-George no
less). The candidates
are profiled here.

21.30 Good evening and welcome to the Daily Telegraph’s live coverage
of the result of the Eastleigh by-election. The Liberal Democrats are hoping
to hold the seat that was vacated after Chris Huhne, the former Energy
Secretary, left Parliament after pleading guilty to perverting the course of

Do get in touch: [email protected]

Eastleigh by-election result: live –
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