Comedy writer John O'Farrell is Labour's man in Eastleigh
Known for his quips, the 50-year-old is serious about his chances in Chris Huhne's former seat
LABOUR have chosen comedy writer John O'Farrell as their candidate for this month's Eastleigh by-election, a poll triggered by the resignation of disgraced Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne.
O'Farrell is best-known for his "quippish appearances" on the BBC television comedy quiz Have I Got News for You, says The Independent. But he has also written scripts for the satirical puppet show Spitting Image and authored a number of bestselling books including Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter.
Recent polls suggest the Lib Dems may hang onto Eastleigh despite Huhne's spectacular fall from grace. A Survation poll, published on 9 February, well before O'Farrell announced his candidacy today, put the Lib Dems on 36 per cent, slightly ahead of the Conservatives on 33 per cent. UKIP is in third place with 16 per cent and Labour down in fourth at 13 per cent.
O'Farrell, 50, believes he can win the 28 February by-election despite the polls and the fact the bookies have him as a 16-1 outsider. He has vowed to "work hard" and says he hopes to pick up votes from "disillusioned" Lib Dem voters in the Hampshire constituency.
The former Tory MP Louise Mensch said that was a likely outcome, but the defection of Lib Dem voters to Labour's "funny, serious" hopeful would ultimately benefit the Conservative candidate, Maria Hutchings.
The New Statesman agrees with that analysis. "With the polls as tight as they are, a stronger-than-expected Labour performance could gift the seat to Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings," it says.
But Labour has to campaign hard in the seat having "vowed to win over voters in the south". It would be a "disastrous result" for Ed Miliband if the party finished fourth behind UKIP.
The Guardian points out that the Eastleigh by-election will be the second time that O'Farrell – a "self-deprecating chronicler of middle class, left-wing angst" – has stood for political office.
He was the no-hope Labour candidate in his home town of Maidenhead in the 2001 general election, an experience he turned into a BBC documentary called Campaign Confessions: Losing My Maidenhead.