Oldham East & Saddleworth By Election
There has been much written about the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election suggesting a variety of motivations and levels of activity from the various major political parties. Without a direct statement from those concerned it is difficult to know how much is true but what is certain is that this is a very unusual by-election for many reasons:
1. The campaign came about through the disqualification of former Labour MP Phil Woolas due to an electoral court finding that he had knowingly told lies about his Lib Dem opponent at the General Election. This was a rare and significant event and Woolas took the decision to the High Court but lost his appeal. Thus the background to the campaign is all about the underhand campaign that had been fought by Labour in May.
2. It has been very short campaign conducted almost entirely over the Christmas and New Year break. To have a by-election in mid-January is unusual and something that the major parties would normally seek to avoid at all costs. No doubt the Lib Dems hope that having a short campaign will ensure that the reasons for it will be fresh in voters’ minds.
3. The seat itself was a genuine three-way marginal in the last General Election. Very few seats are three-way fights but this one had the Lib Dems just 103 votes behind Labour and the Conservatives just over 2,000 behind in third place.
4. Due to the national coalition between the Conservatives and Lib Dems there is a reported desire on the part of some in the Conservative leadership to “prop-up” the Lib Dems by not mounting a full scale by-election campaign. Suggestions have been heard that this strategy was even discussed and endorsed at Cabinet level, although this has not been confirmed. Many MPs and activists (myself included) are appalled at such a suggestion. Of course we should not try to knock lumps out of our coalition partners in the campaign but the party as a whole should have given total support to someone who is by all accounts an excellent local Conservative candidate and gone all-out to help him win. It seems that rather belatedly this now is the case.
5. There have been no opinion polls so far. Normally during a by-election at least one of the major polling organisations would conduct a local poll indicating which party was likely to win the seat. Due to the Christmas holidays and the short campaign, so far no poll has been published.
6. Very unusually there are reportedly fewer voters registered for postal votes in the by-election than there were in the General Election. Usually parties put a big effort into registering their supporters for postal votes as the turnout for a postal voter is much higher than one going to the polling station. I would therefore expect the number of postal voters to have increased since May.
7. The BNP having let it be know that their leader and regional MEP Nick Griffin was to stand for them, then had a change of heart and have put up an unknown.
For all of these reasons the by-election outcome is very difficult to call. Each of the three major parties could win and each could come third. I have not been to this by-election but my instinct is that Labour will win with the Conservatives coming second and the Lib Dems third. I have spoken to several friends who have been to Oldham and they advise that the Conservatives have left it too late to pull off a win, the Lib Dems are losing significant amounts of support and the Labour core vote is motivated and active. The turnout is likely to be very low and could struggle to get above 20% which was the recent low in the Leeds Central by-election of 1999.
The full list of candidates is:
Labour – Debbie Abrahams
Lib Dem – Elwyn Watkins
Conservative – Kashif Ali
Green – Peter Allen
UKIP – Paul Nuttall
BNP – Derek Adams
English Democrats – Stephen Morris
Looney – Nick Delves
Bus Pass Elvis – David Bishop
Pirate – Loz Kaye
The General Election result was:
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%)