Sunday, 21 November 2010

Oldham - A report from the front

I have spent this weekend visiting my in-laws and helping Elwyn Watkins and his wonderful team in Oldham East and Saddleworth. It's slightly surreal because, whilst the rest of the country is taking a bit of a collective breather from the stresses and strains of a full on General Election campaign, in Oldham the clock has been wound up to May.

For those of you who have missed the news, Labour and its candidate, former MP Phil Woolas, launched a disgraceful campaign alleging that Elwyn, the Lib Dem candidate, was linked to Islamic extremists, even though even they know to be wrong at the time. They also engaged in a lot of very dubious leafleting to (in their words) "target the angry white vote".

The tactic succeeded as Phil Woolas won by 103 votes rather than lose his seat, as was expected.

But the remarkable figure of Elwyn came through fighting for the truth. Elwyn strikes me as a classic Lancashire Liberal (I was labelled this during the Blaydoin campaign but here it is meant as a compliment) - a no nonsense northerner who speaks his mind and is like a dog with a bone when he knows he is in the right.

He took Woolas to an election court, and sensationally won his case despite very high levels of evidence being needed. Woolas has been disqualified as an MP, so a By election will be called soon.

I went down to Oldham, to help and bumped into a lot of familiar faces from the North, all helping. There was also a large coach of people from down south who delivered a lot of leaflets. The election will be hard fought, as all elections are in this part of the world.

So what did I learn? Four things:

1-  Tories in the area are moving to the Lib Dems in their droves. They respect the leadership Elwyn is offering them. A significant amount of Labour voters are also disgusted by the Woolas affair.

2- The seat is a fascinating mix of people with rich and poor, rural and inner city and a wide ethnic mix in the area. You probably couldn't get a more representative seat for Britain. If the Lib Dems continue to do well here, maybe the London media will find their stories of Lib Dem meltdown harder to justify

3 - This is about right and wrong. If Labour win, it will be a green light to parties engaging in lies and dirty tricks

4 - When the orange light comes on my cars' fuel gauge you really need to get to a petrol station. A massive thank you to the pizza delivery lad who gave me a lift to the petrol station when my car ran out of fuel - quite embarrassing!

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