COULD a Hampshire town give UKIP its first seat in the House of Commons?
That is what a new poll in Eastleigh is suggesting after it put the party ahead of its political rivals – for the first time anywhere in the country.
The party led by Nigel Farage has now labelled the town as its top priority target seat.
UKIP came a surprising second behind the Liberal Democrats at last year’s by-election, with the seat taken by Mike Thornton following a night of tension and drama.
But senior UKIP figures say they believe that they could win it at next year’s General Election.
A poll by Survation, funded by UKIP donor Alan Bown, asked constituents how they voted at the Eastleigh by-election last year and how they intended to vote next time round.
The survey claims that 32 per cent of people were supporting UKIP, which put the party four points ahead of the Conservatives on 28 per cent and five points ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
The 506 people asked were surveyed without using candidate names as some parties are yet to declare theirs – including Labour and the Conservatives.
Lib Dem Mr Thornton has already announced his intention to fight to retain his parliamentary seat at next year’s General Election after winning the backing of his party.
He won his seat in February last year following the dramatic resignation of former MP Chris Huhne, who was jailed last March after he admitted passing speeding points to his ex-wife Vicky Pryce.
Mr Thornton secured 13,342 votes – 32 per cent of the vote and a majority of 1,771 over the UKIP candidate Diane James, with Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings third on 25.3 per cent.
Eastleigh MP Mike Thornton with party leader Nick Clegg
But will Mr Farage himself throw his hat into the Eastleigh MP contest?
Not according to local party leaders.
County councillor Ray Finch, leader of UKIP in Hampshire, said as far as he understood Ms James was still the candidate and that Mr Farage would stand in Kent.
Hampshire UKIP leader Cllr Ray Finch
He said the poll showed how much good work the party branch was doing and said they offered the only opposition to the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
UKIP party director Lisa Duffy said she could not rule Mr Farage out of Eastleigh, but said her understanding was no decision would be made on where Mr Farage would stand until summer.
Mr Thornton said that a vote for UKIP was a “negative vote”, but said people tend to protest vote between General Elections – but when it came to it they would not.
He said the election was a year away and he was quite confident that he could retain the seat.