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Mike's night but UKIP almost took centre stage
3:57am Friday 1st March 2013 in News
THEY WERE expecting a late night and a tight vote. In the end it was neither.
From as early as 12.30am the murmuring in the counting hall at Fleming Park was that it was going Mike Thornton’s way.
But while the Lib Dem camp were preparing to pop the champagne corks the biggest smiles of the night were emanating from the UKIP camp who were on course to clinch an historic place in political history.
UKIP supporter Neil Hamilton, who arrived after taking part in the Question Time programme earlier in the evening, said the party had simply tapped into the electorate’s concerns.
He said: “I have never experienced a spontaneous upsurge of support that UKIP has seen here.
“The buzz on the streets of Eastleigh was out of all proportion to anything I have seen before.”
The former Tory put the success at the ballot box down to immigration concerns and the closure of the Ford factory.
The candidates themselves were in danger of missing the climax of the night as the counting was drawing to a close by the time they arrived.
The beaming smile on the face of Mr Thornton accompanied by his wife Peta, said it all as he walked through the doors of the leisure centre.
His victory was roundly acknowledged not least by the bank of photographers and broadcasters who were camped at the door.
Asked how he felt, Mr Thornton said he was absolutely exhilarated.
“I am as wide awake as I have ever been in my whole life.
Assuming it is right, it is fantastic.
I really do think that we have shown here that they can trust us to listen to their needs.
“We are used to governing, we know how to do things right. We know how to listen to the people.
"An MP’s first job is to represent his constituency – everything after that is secondary.
"The people of Eastleigh knew that we could go on and on about national issues and they are important, but first of all they want someone to represent them at Westminster. They knew I would always have their interests at heart.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said of his party’s performance: “This is by far our best first past the post performance.
I think it has been amazing, we have had real momentum and there has been tremendous excitement.”
Overjoyed UKIP candidate Diane James said of her campaign: “We are absolutely delighted with the campaign here. I want to give the team a lot of credit.
“We have fought this lean and mean. I think we were the only party out there listening to the people of Easteigh and able to turn that around and make it fit in terms of our policies and that’s why the manifesto was received as well as it was.”
Maria Hutchings was the final candidate to arrive at the counting hall, by then well aware she had not only lost the by-election but was looking at dropping down the rankings.
Mother-of-four Mrs Hutchings barely mustered a smile as she entered the room and was immediately ushered into the centre of the hall without speaking to the media.
She took a seat at the far side of the hall before hugging members of her campaign team.
It was a far cry from the jubilant entrance of her rival Mike Thornton and the thumbs-up poses staged by UKIP’s Diane James infront of the cameras The sound of shutters clattering drowned out the muted cheers from supporters of Mrs Hutchings, who by then had been told the outcome was looking bleak.
Meanwhile, the Labour camp had admitted defeat early on as Labour candidate John O’Farrell was pushed into fourth place.
Conceding defeat before the official announcement Southampton Itchen MP John Denham said: “We are very pleased we fought a very vigorous campaign in a constituency where we got less than one in ten votes last time.
“Our core of the vote was held while both of the Lib Dems and the Tories have suffered a big fall. The biggest losers of the night are the Tories who have lost a lot of votes to UKIP.
“On one hand it is a protest vote but we have also got to understand that a lot of people are talking about migration – it is a concern.
Labour have been taking this issue seriously.
We admit we got some things wrong but we are working on it.”