The result was a victory for the Liberal Democrat candidate David Bellotti, who defeated the former Conservative MP Richard Hickmet by a majority of 4,550 votes. The defeat came as a shock to many Conservatives who had expected (not least given the circumstances under which the by-election was held, as well as the fact that it had been retained by a majority of more than 16,000 votes in 1987) that they would easily retain the seat. Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe sent a message to voters saying that the IRA would be "toasting their success".
It was a welcome success for the Liberal Democrats, formed in March 1988, after some disastrous early local and European election showings, as well as dismal showings in opinion polls. It came at a time when Conservative support was slumping and Labour was enjoying a comfortable lead in the opinion polls, largely due to the unpopular introduction of poll tax by the Conservative government.
However, at the next general election just 18 months later, Bellotti was defeated by over 5,000 votes. The outcome of was symbolic of how the fortunes of the main three political parties had altered in that short time. The Liberal Democrats, who at the time of the Eastbourne success were looking set for a big rise in votes and seats, were left with a reduced number of seats, while the Conservatives were re-elected under new leader John Major (who had succeeded Margaret Thatcher in November 1990), leaving Labour in opposition for a fourth successive term of parliament - meaning that Neil Kinnock never made it into government as the opinion polls throughout 1990 had all suggested would happen.