by Ray Fleming

T he Liberal Democrats have chosen 28 February for the by-election in Eastleigh, Hampshire, caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne as MP. They have taken the chance that a short, sharp fight with their Conservative coalition partner will be a better bet than waiting until the local elections in May by when the issue of Mr Huhne's lies and family quarrels might have been less newsworthy. The Conservatives clearly believe that the early election will work in their favour -- they had already decided to push the Huhne disgrace hard and yesterday the party chairman, Grant Shapps, said that for the full three weeks it would be focus of their campaign. Personally, I think that may prove to be a mistake -- the new Liberal Democrat candidate, whoever is selected by the local party this weekend, can hardly be blamed for Huhne's misjudgements which were not of a political character.

It is probable that Maria Hutchings, who was a good second at the 2010 general election, will be the Conservative candidate again; she will have tremendous party backing because a win for David Cameron is essential if he is to get his own standing with the party back on track.. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, will not fight the seat, a relief for the Conservatives, but another candidate might do so. A very interesting three weeks are in prospect.