Possibly. Possibly not.
I think an interesting indicator of Labour's coming performance may be found in last year's votes in the 15 borough council seats.
This is appropriate for a couple of reasons. These were second order elections (i.e. elections where, for most people, the outcomes do not matter as much as the 'first order' general elections) and are more likely to reflect disaffection/protest votes, and it is reasonable to assume that LibDem voter dissatisfaction with their dark doings would be reflected in some way. It's reasonable to expect to see a proportion of the softer LibDem vote returning to the Labour fold, and anticipate the Tories losing ground to UKIP.
The May 2012 vote broke down like this:
LibDem 12,210 45.35% (46.5%)
Tory 7,202 26.75% (39.3%)
Labour 4,050 15.04% (9.6%)
UKIP 2,887 10.72% (3.6%)
Others 576 2.14% (1.0%)
Total = 26,925
Percentages in brackets are proportions at the 2010 general election. The borough council site is here.
The 2012 shares indicate that indeed Labour has won back a section of the hardcore voters who turn out for local elections and UKIP is breaking away Tory votes. But, surprisingly, the LibDem vote has remained large and virtually unchanged. There could be a couple of reasons for this. I'm not au fait with Eastleigh Borough Council's performance, but there is little change from the previous year's results, indicating at least satisfaction. The second is it's quite possible that a number of LibDem borough councillors have a personal following who turn out time after time. And lastly, Huhne - as one of the few recognisable LibDem MPs - was apparently very visible during the campaign.
But that was then and this is now. The manner of Huhne's resignation will likely negate any incumbency advantage, though given the character of the constituency I doubt the LibDems as a brand would be damaged in the eyes of their support. Local issues can have something of an impact too. Though it didn't have much of an influence on the borough election outcomes, disquiet and protests over building 1,700 new homes could be amplified by the national media spotlight and impact negatively on the LibDem vote.
So, it's not looking good for Labour then. That said, I still think Labour should campaign hard and fight to win. As Luke Akehurst notes,
* We’ve had a bunch of good by-election results but, with the exception of Corby, they have all been in places where the media can discount it as our core vote holding up or coming home. An opportunity has come up for us to demonstrate what is happening in the “deep south” where many would like to write us off.While it looks unlikely at the moment a strong Labour campaign, difficulties among the Coalition (the LibDems are sure to revert to dirty type if it looks like the Tories are gaining traction), high profile idiocies between now and the 28th, AND the UKIP media circus could, in total, be a great leveller. It's an outside chance, but a challenge is there to be met, not avoided. So, see you on the streets of Eastleigh.
* One or other of the coalition parties has to lose. They can’t both win so this election will either damage the Tories or the Lib Dems. It might even damage both if we recover and UKIP does well. In contrast we have nothing to lose as we are starting from such a low base. A Lib Dem loss would be serious – the first Liberal or Lib Dem seat they have lost in a by-election since 1957. A Tory failure to take a target marginal off the Lib Dems in these circumstances shows they are not in the game for a winning a majority in 2015.
* We need to prove there are no no-go areas for Labour. If Ed’s “One Nation” message is to work, we have to get credible Labour results – not necessarily wins, but traction in our direction – in places like Hampshire.
* If we do well here it helps us argue that a Labour vote is not a wasted vote in lots of the rural shire county councils which go to the polls this May.