Will Eastleigh Make Nigel Farage the George Galloway of the Right?
By Dominic Gover | March 1, 2013 4:52 AM EST
Ukip has moved into second place in the Eastleigh by-election after overtaking the Tories, according to bookmakers' odds.
As bookies put the anti-European Union party ahead of the Conservatives in Eastleigh it fuelled the question: Is Nigel Farage the new George Galloway?
The prospect would probably be a horrifying one for both politicains who are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
But there is a mounting sense in the Hampshire constituency that Farage's Ukip are capable of striking a heavy blow against traditional party politics at the ballot box and getting their first MP into the House of Commons.
That is exactly what Galloway did when he stood in Bradford West for the Respect party and demolished a healthy Labour majority.
Nearly 12 months on and in Hampshire the Liberal Democrats and Tories are confronting the question could it happen again?
Bookmakers certainly think a win for Ukip is feasible in what has become the most closely contested by-election campaign in years.
Should Ukip mount an upset, the message will reverberate through the corridors of power in Britain that voters have rejected the traditional parties of politics as usual.
Odds at William Hill against a Ukip win have collapsed from 150/1 when the contest began in early February - to 5/1 second favourites by polling day.
The odds remain stacked against a Ukip victory for its candidate Diane James with the Lib Dem's Mike Thornton hot favourite at 2/9 on. But then the odds were stacked against socialist George Galloway in Bradford West in 2012.
Westminster was thrown on to the back foot as Galloway used similar high-visibility tactics as Ukip in Eastleigh to grab power from his former Labour colleague in a dramatic upset. Galloway himself modestly called his victory "the biggest shock in political history".
By employing similar tactics, Ukip leader Nigel Farage was able to speak bullishly of his party's prospects on the last day of campaigning. "Turnout makes a hell of a difference," he said. "People who have said they will vote Ukip will go out and vote for Ukip in blood. We could see a Ukip win," he said.
William Hill tipster Graham Shape said Eastleigh was "the biggest by-election in terms of turnover we have ever seen. Eastleigh is likely to be an industry first by being the first British by-election in which a six-figure sum was placed [for a bet]."
Watching carefully was Prime Minister David Cameron who was warned by his backbenchers ahead of polling. David Davis said finishing behind Ukip would be a "crisis" for the Conservatives.
"If we came third it would be a crisis," he said. "If it's a close second with Ukip on our tail it will also be uncomfortable."
The by-election was sparked by the shock resignation of Chris Huhne over a motoring offence.
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