Oldham East and Saddleworth By-election Candidates Announced
Following news that former Labour MP Phil Woolas has lost his appeal against the election court declaring his election void, the major parties have been selecting their candidates for the imminent by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth. This will have to be in the New Year and early February is considered the favourite time.
Labour has selected Debbie Abrahams (left) to fight the seat. She stood in Colne Valley in the General Election. She defeated Riaz Ahmad and Abdul Jabbar, both of whom were previously Oldham Mayors, to win the candidacy. However, many see it as a poison chalice for her. She will undoubtedly be dogged by reminders of the reasons that the by-election is taking place; namely the scurrilous campaign fought by Woolas.
The Lib Dems have reselected their General Election candidate Elwyn Watkins. It was he who complained to the courts that Woolas had fought a campaign based around outright lies about him and his associates. In the General Election he was just 103 votes behind Woolas but saw his vote share decline slightly (0.5%).
The Conservatives have also reselected their General Election candidate Kashif Ali (right). He came in just behind the Lib Dems but saw his vote share surge by almost 9%. Ali is genuinely local, having been born and bred in the area and he is well known locally for his work as a barrister and with a national charity supporting those with mental illnesses.
The BNP have announced that they will stand their Party leader North West MEP Nick Griffin. UKIP have selected Paul Nuttall who is also an MEP for the North West. It is likely that the Greens will also stand but I have not seen an announcement of their candidate yet. I have also heard that we can expect an “anti-fees” candidate back by the NUS and student campaigners, which would probably hurt the Lib Dems the most.
In normal circumstances I would have expected the Lib Dems to take the seat from Labour. However, these are not normal circumstances. Labour will be handicapped by their history in the seat and the fact that Woolas has been convicted of lying about his opponent but the Lib Dems have lost around half of their opinion poll rating and are down from 25% to about 10-15% now. There is also a history of challengers of election results not doing as well as they might have expected.
There is a buoyant mood in the Conservative camp where this is being treated as very much a three-way fight. I am told that the Conservatives have been quietly campaigning for a while now but that now that a candidate has been confirmed the campaign will step up into a new gear.
It will be a very interesting by-election. All three major parties will have high hopes but have certain problems to over-come if they are to take the seat. One thing is for certain, if Labour lose the seat it will be a body blow for new leader Ed Miliband who has yet to really make a mark on either the political landscape or his own party.
The General Election result was:
Woolas (Labour) – 14,186 (31.9%)
Watkins (Lib Dem) – 14,083 (31.6%)
Ali (Conservative) – 11,773 (26.4%)
Stott (BNP) – 2,546 (5.7%)
Bentley (UKIP) – 1,720 (3.9%)
Nazir (Christian) – 2.2 (0.5%)
UPDATE: I understand that the Lib Dems intend to move the Writ for the by-election tomorrow (16 Dec) and have the election on 13 Jan 11.