Sunday, 16 January 2011

Over but not out...

It will feel strange not heading up to Oldham this week. How I will miss the steep hills, murky weather and extremely irritated constituents who were receiving at least three telephone canvassers, four door canvassers and an untold amount of literature a day.

Of course, By-elections are treated as a barometer of public political feeling and as a result immense money, time and effort gets ploughed in by all parties.

After reading the newspapers, watching Newsnight, listening to the radio and following national YouGov polls, you could be forgiven for thinking that the result was going to be a foregone conclusion: Labour romping home to victory.

Well this wasn't what happened. Yes, our candidate Elwyn Watkins came second, but we actually increased our vote share to 31.9%.

Bear in mind Oldham East and Saddleworth has been a Labour seat for the previous FOUR general elections, and was a Labour hold at the height of Clegg mania. According to the Labour party and its new leader Ed Miliband the Coalition are being reckless with people's livelihoods, cutting too fast and generally being nasty. Most of the election literature centred round the VAT tax bombshell, and tuition fees. (erm, Labour introduced tuition fees and Darling also had plans to raise the tax....) If this was indeed true, then Labour would and should have stormed to victory.

On the doorsteps it was apparent that many people understand why cuts have to be made and are quite aware that while Labour have quietly admitted that they would also have to have made cuts, they have not outlined any sort of credible plan. It was also clear that even at a late stage many people had genuinely not made up their mind about whether they would vote Labour or Lib Dem. This really doesn't bear out the argument that the Lib Dems are now seen as synonymous with the Conservatives, or that all those who voted for us in May now feel disillusioned and angry and are turning to Labour in their droves.

Electorally, Labour should be in the perfect position. Grim economic times and Government cuts make great fodder for media soundbites and big speeches. With no responsibility for balancing the budget and making tough decisions, its easy to criticise and level the charge of unfairness. However, the election result proves that there are many voters who can see through this, and that core Lib Dem support is holding up well and not flooding to Labour, as Miliband desperately hopes it will.

In the words of Tim Farron ... 'And let’s not forget, the last time a Government party made a by-election gain was in 1982 amid the chaos and fear of the Falklands War, so unless we had persuaded some far off country to invade British territory we were always going to be up against it!'

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