by Ray Fleming

TOMORROW'S Eastleigh by-election had seemed likely to provide a fascinating preview of the Conservative--Liberal Democrat fight that will take place at the 2015 General Election and also an indication of the Conservative's ability to see off UKIP. Such an outcome is now unlikely following the LibDem's uncertain handling of the allegations against its former chief executive Lord Rennard on the one hand and the Conservative's problems with their loose cannon candidate Maria Hutchings on the other.

Yesterday the former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft who runs his own public opinion polls said the LibDems have a five point lead over the Conservatives -- the reverse of what the Mail on Sunday said. UKIP's leader Nigel Farage bet 100 pounds on his party to win after both polls showed it steady about eight points below whichever is the leader. Lord Paddy Ashdown was deployed by the LibDems yesterday and said that the vote is solid with no falling away because of the Rennard affair. Kenneth Clarke, was the first minister to break ranks, saying that “it will not be surprising” if the Conservatives lose. Labour is nowhere.

In summary of this chaos, the greatest political risk is for David Cameron. With the knocks the LibDems have taken he should be able to win but he may not do so and may also find UKIP snapping at his heels.