It's 1.30am and I am about to go to bed. I fear there is nothing to wait-up for apart from a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. The writing is on the wall, the Lib Dem's have held their seat and we have almost certainly come third, behind UKIP. That is the democratic process. I am not happy, but the people have spoken.
I am not going to join the Armchair Army in their faux outrage and predictions of Armageddon. I have found over the years that most who comment on-line with pompous authority have seldom set foot in the town where the election is being fought.
In truth, I actually thought the CCHQ Campaign Team did a good job. The literature was fine, the teams of helpers were well organised, the campaign was well supported. Technically, we did all we could have done. It just wasn't quite enough.
When I left Hampshire in the early 1990s Eastleigh had a Conservative Council and a Conservative MP. In 1992 we polled 39,000 votes and we had a majority of over 17,000. Tonight, I predict we will poll around 10,000 votes. Even allowing for a reduced electorate through boundary changes, that is quite a decline.
Back then the Association had a full time Agent (his name was Adrian Bridle, and he was a friend of mine). They had over 1,000 members and active branches in most wards. Whilst the LibDems and Labour held most of the town centre seats, we were solid in the villages, Botley, Hedge End, West End, Bursledon, Netley, Hiltingbury and Hamble.
We then lost the by-election following the tragic death of Stephen Milligan. But even after that defeat in 1995, we were still in contention. Adrian Bridle had retired as Agent and Gordon Williams took over. He rebuilt the council base to 20 Conservative councillors and the membership to 900. Sadly, after Gordon left, things appear to have gone wrong.
I understand that membership is now around 100, mainly very old. We have lost every single council seat (apart from the four in Hiltingbury, which are not part of the Eastleigh Parliamentary constituency). Even the formerly rock solid yachting haven of Hamble (where they filmed Howard's Way) is now very safely Lib Dem.
Tonight's result isn't a reflection on CCHQ or Maria Hutchings. They did the best they could with the tools available.,
The lesson from Eastleigh is this is what happens when a political party loses its membership, loses its branches, loses its district, county and parish councillors and ultimately loses its roots and understanding of the community it is there to represent.
Across the country there must be many Eastleighs just waiting to happen - and it affects all main parties, not just us. I can think of a few in Kent - so goodness only knows what we must be like in much of the Midlands, North West and North and Scotland.
CAMS (centrally managed membership) is a fig leaf. You don't reconnect a political party with the community by handing the responsibility of collecting membership subscriptions to a centralised database, which posts out the letters on your behalf. You rebuild a political organisation from the grass roots upwards. Street by street, polling district by polling district, ward by ward and eventually the Parliamentary seat will fall.
We most stop this management of decline. Yes, the endless branch meetings where members spend more time talking about the next jumble sale than they do about politics can be tedious, but they bring people into the fold who would otherwise be excluded. And by bringing them in we hear what they say, and they tell others that we listened and bring them in too. And once enough friends talk about us in favourable terms, we have a chance of winning back the council seats - and perhaps, one day, just perhaps, when we have won back the council seats and organised enough coffee mornings, and signed up the helpers, Eastleigh, and many seats like it. may once again have a Conservative MP.
Post script: it would appear that the great Bill Deedes got there 12 years before me. He is an article he wrote for the Telegraph on 2001 on this very subject: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1309788/How-Tories-lost-their-precious-volunteer-army.html I am grateful to my friend, Philip Young, for bringing it to my attention.