14 January 2011

Some Oldham truths

So an opposition party holds a seat with a swing against the government. Nothing to see here - move on.

Well that's one way of interpreting 'Old and Sad', but not one I'd support. There's a worrying degree of complacency among Lib Dems about the result - probably as a result of the relief that it could have been so much worse.

But this was an election the Lib Dems should really have won. Elections in individual seats have nothing to do with the national picture - other than a general perception about the state of the parties - and voters decide on the balance of local campaigns, issues and candidate's personalities. This was vacancy caused by Labour's illegality - for which no-one has still apologised - at a time of the Lib Dems choosing, with an identikit Nu-Labour carreerist clone candidate parachuted in having been rejected by voters elsewhere in May.

Labour won with their highest ever share of the vote in the seat and their second highest ever majority (full results here). The Lib Dem vote was the lowest ever and the share was the second lowest ever. It was clear that many previous Lib Dem voters either stayed at home or voted Labour.

What is equally clear (and has been for a number of years now) is that the Lib Dem campaign machine has no way of reaching tribally loyal Labour voters who will loyally turn out for that party come hell or high water and whatever the privations thrust on them by the latest careerist hack that Labour chooses to represent them. And as the by-election circus moves to Barnsley, unless a new strategy is found, you can bet the burgers of that benighted borough will return another Labour MP, despite the current one defrauding them of tens of thousands of pounds.

However, in the long run Oldham and Saddleworth is likely to prove a Phyrric victory for Labour. It means that Ed Miliband's leadership is secured in the medium term and his opportunistic strategy of denying his party's culpability for the economic crisis and of the need for any spending cuts will continue. And ultimately that can only be good for both coalition parties.

Secondly, it shows that despite the polls - locally in Oldham and nationally - that talk of the Lib Dems demise is wrong. Yes it shows how hard we will have to work to explain to dissillusioned voters the party's case, but it shows attracting new voters is possible. Hopefully, it will provide a boost to Lib Dem campaigners up and down the country and convince them that this year's elections will not be the wipe out that most commentators are gleefully (and ignorantly) predicting.

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