Friday, 14 January 2011

Oldham East and Saddleworth: my post mortem

Well first of all congratulations to Debbie Abrahams for winning the Oldham East and Saddleworth by election yesterday. She comes across as a nice enough sort and I wish her well in her crusade to never break a political promise (I presume the Labour party manifesto will never be construed as such a thing!)

I gave a few days of my time to support Elwyn Watkins, the Lib Dems excellent candidate and am naturally disappointed by the result. he would have made a great MP and been a real character in Parliament.

Over at there is a fairly good article looking at why Labour won but I would just make a few observations:

- The great news is that Phil Woolas's career is over, his literature was disgusting, trying to stir up racial hatred. I was staggered that Ed Milliband appointed him as shadow immigration minister with the leaflets he put out. The Labour party should have suspended Woolas immediately, not waited for a court to decide. Elwyn has already achieved more as a candidate than many backbench MPs do in their whole career. He has reminded candidates that they have to tell the truth in elections or face the consequences. Saying that, I was surprised how little traction the issue had on the doorsteps. The fact that it was the first such conviction in 99 years and their former MP was a convicted liar unfortunately confirmed peoples opinions that all politicians are liars. A bad thing we need to prove wrong.

- The Lib Dems came together and worked as a team - contrary to reports that we are horribly divided and about to cease to exist, the Lib Dem activists came to Oldham in their droves. There was a great sense of togetherness and I met some old friends and some great new people. For many of our newer members, this was their first big by-election and I hope they "enjoyed" it. Our party is very resilient and full of great people.

- Elwyn did not lose this election, the party did. In normal times Elwyn Watkins would have walked this election, he is genuinely popular in the area and Mrs Abrahams is relatively unknown. Our collapse in popularity at the moment was moderated to some extent by this and the result was respectable rather than disastrous. To be honest I didn't even find Labour voters that enthusiastic about their party, most  people are not that keen on a lot of us at the moment!

- Labours by-election machine has now improved and is matching our previously peerless campaigns department. They put out some quirky but good literature and had a lot of good voter ID, matching us for the first by-election in a long time. Andy Burnham has said the party is trying new techniques to be more informal with voters. The Lib Dems need to raise our game again. Saying that, the campaign team led by Dave McCobb did a great job in holding our vote share.

- The Tories did not throw in the towel but still got squeezed. They are not brilliant at campaigning in these kind of events and I predict they will not win a by-election whilst they are in government. The Lib Dems may still be able to win the odd one but it will be hard.

-This election was all over the place. Voters were changing preferences a lot at the moment. The electorate is more fickle or thoughtful (depending on how bitter you are!) and does change preferences more. This demands more of an effort to persuade them of your cause. Our vote share increased marginally but the Tories share collapsed. But this was not a linear swing. We lost some voters to Labour and gained some from the Tories (as did they) but one vote lost to the Labour party from the Lib Dems is worth two votes from the Tories in our crazy FPTP system.

- Among the minor parties, UKIP spent big and edged out the BNP but did so by pushing a very right wing anti immigration agenda. Is their future to be "BNP lite" perhaps? The BNP were the cause of the only agreement I had with Labour activists in the field. They are scum and just gang up like school kids, shouting and swear at people. All very intimidating and not the way to do well! Finally, the English Democrats must win the "Bootle" prize (named in honour of the rump SDPs disastrous showing in the bootle by election in May 1990) for being discredited by coming behind the Monster Raving Loony Party.

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