The Liberal Democrats hung on to the parliamentary seat of Eastleigh yesterday in a by-election more interesting for the minor placings and the inevitable fallout to follow. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was on hand to congratulate his candidate Mike Thornton after victory was secured by 1,771 votes. However, despite the very public problems the party has faced over recent weeks, the spotlight now looks certain to turn towards their coalition partners after the Tories were beaten into third by UKIP.

Although the margins were tight between second and third (1,012 votes), UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) has downplayed the notion of this being a “freak result.” The Tories are also in downplaying mode, insisting the defeat is simply typical of a mid-term election. They could be right. The last time the Conservatives held Eastleigh was 1994, which was also the last time a by-election was held there. That by-election was triggered by another scandal after the incumbent MP was found dead in his London home. The cause of death is thought to have been autoerotic asphyxiation. The Liberals have won six votes in a row since.

Although UKIP came close to breaking the recent trend of Liberal successes in the Hampshire town, it’s spike in votes on Thursday compared to the last parliamentary vote in 2010 is staggeringly large, at 24 percent, to be taken as anything other than a protest against the Conservatives. UKIP holds zero seats in the 650-seat House of Commons and polled three percent of the national vote in 2010’s general election. The party has its supporters, mainly made up of disenchanted Tories and anti-EU types, and isn’t as right wing as the facist British National Party (BNP), making it slightly more palatable to the mainstream media. But with “first past the post” still hanging on as voting system of choice, at least in general elections, UKIP stands, as it did last night, alongside the Monster Raving Loonies, Elvis Loves Pets, Beer, Baccy and Crumpets and the English Democrats. They don’t have a say in parliament, and for the short term at least, they never will.

As for the Lib Dems, the result strengthens their position in government for the time being, which will no doubt be an annoyance to David Cameron, who continues to look for positive signs ahead of a 2015 election that could be win-a-majority-or-bust for his leadership.