There will be lots of column inches wasted this morning trying to draw great conclusions from the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, when really by-elections don’t tell us a whole lot we couldn’t tell from the national polls anyway. The OES result was in the sort of ball park we should have expected from the ICM and Populus polls a week ago. They both suggested a Labour lead of 17 points, and in the event Labour won by around 10 points – but the publication of the polls showing the Liberal Democrats in a clear second probably encouraged further tactical voting and shifted support from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats in that final week.

An increase in Labour support of about 10 points is very much in line with the national picture anyway, more interesting is the degree of tactical voting by Conservative supporters in favour of the Lib Dems, which made up for a large loss of Lib Dem support to Labour and allowed them to retain their vote share. Populus’s poll already had 22% of 2010 Conservative voters switching to the Lib Dems, and presumably the actual figure was higher given the apparent shift in the vote since the pre-by-election polls.

If this became a common pattern at elections then it would have a significant effect, essentially reversing the pattern of tactical voting we’ve seen at the last four or five elections, especially if it also worked the other way with Liberal Democrat supporters being willing to back the Conservatives tactically. This is not as outlandish as it seems – remember the remaining rump support for the Liberal Democrats is made up of those more positively inclined towards the Tories, in a forced choice question of whether they’d prefer a Labour or Tory government, they opt for a Tory government by 51% to 16%. While it’s interesting to speculate, by-elections are strange creatures and it would be foolish to assume the level of tactical voting at a by-election would be replicated at a general election.

Following on from Oldham East and Saddleworth, later this year we should be getting by-elections in Barnsley Central and possibly Leicester South (if, as expected, Peter Soulsby becomes elected mayor of Leicester) and Belfast West (if, as expected, Gerry Adams steps down to contest Louth in the Irish general election).

262 Responses to “Oldham East and Saddleworth”

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  1. On the evidence of OE&S, Labour should at the very least be organising to make gains in:

    Birmigham Yardley, Backpool S, Bradford E, Brent C, Brentwood & Isleworth, Brighton Kemptown, Broxtowe, Burnley, Bury N
    Cannock Chase, Cardiff N, Carlisle, Chester, Corby, Croyden C
    Ealing C, Enfield N, Erewash
    Halesowen, Harrow E, Hastings & Rye, Hendon, Hove
    Keithghley, Kingswood
    Lancaster & Fleetwood, Lincoln
    Manchester Withington, Morecombe & Lunesdale Northampton N, Norwich S, Nuneaton
    Pendle, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Pudsey Sherwood, Stockton S, Stroud
    Warrington S, Warwick & Leamington, Warwickshire N, Watford, Waveney, Weaver Vale, Wirral W, Wolverhampton SW, Worcester

  2. @Billy Bob

    you can add my alma mater Bristol North West to your list.


  3. @ Rob Sheffield

    Bristol NW, welcome to the list. :)

  4. Having said that, the original list only includes seats where Labour is in third place *if* there are just 3-4 thousand votes or less separating the parties. (Otherwise the list would be much longer.)

    As Amber Star pointed out previously, this may begin to thow into confusion estimates about the degree to which boundary changes will help the Conservatives.

  5. @Billy Bob

    NNW was a real three-way in 2010: and a real bell wether seat over the last 40 years.

    In 2010 Labour were third 6,000 behind the Conservatives who won on an above average swing.

    Local knowledge suggests to me that were it to be contested tomorrow Labour would win and be between 5 and 10 points ahead of the Conservatives with Lib Dems nowhere.

  6. @ Amber Star

    “@ DAODAO

    ‘True liberalism stands for freedom and the market economy, tempered by a concern for social justice, in contrast to the domineering state-centred approach of Socialism/Marxism.’

    Some of us believe that “concern” doesn’t get the job done. Robust action is required. For that, we need a strong state.

    The legal position of corporations is that share-holder value is paramount; concern for employees, the environment etc. are not seen as important in their own right, but through the prism of maximising the advantage of share-holders.

    Only a strong state which puts employees, social & environmental concerns first, can balance the remit & power vested in corporations by our historical Company Act & other coporate law.

    Obviously, this is an incredibly short refutation of your point. I could go on for pages.”

    Hmmm. Where do you think I stand ideologically if I believe in freedom and a (relatively speaking of course) market economy with concern for social justice and economic fairness? And if I believe that the state has a role to play in ensuring economic fairness and social justice while respecting individual freedom and liberty and protecting a market oriented economy? And if “economic fairness” is too general a term, I’ll try and be a little more specific. Economic fairness is the equality of economic opportunity for all members of society, protection of individuals from being taken advantage of by larger and more powerful business entities, protection of individual wages and other rights in the course of employment, protecting individuals from unfair contractual bargaining positions, and a government taxation structure that promotes and strengthens middle income earners.

    On the issue of protecting shareholders of corporations, what about the small investor? Where do you think one ideologically falls if they believe that the rights and opportunity of the small investor (as well as the small business owner) should be protected?

    And on the issue of environmentalism, what about conflicting business interests where one business interest naturally opposes environmentalism and another business interest favors environmentalism because it environmentalism actually benefits and protects their business interests, where does that fall ideologically?

  7. @ Billy Bob
    Any thoughts on your Labour target seats if AV were in effect?

    Looking at OE&S, I wonder if the Lib Dems would have taken it under AV on the assumption that those voting Lib Dem or Tory this time would be unlikely to have given Labour their 2nd preference.

  8. @AberdeenCynic

    Too hard. ;)

    Btw, what proportion voters only give one preference (those absolutely in favour of FPTP perhaps)?

  9. @aberdeencynic

    You don’t think that under a proper AV preference system Conservative voters- in the main- would prefer UKIP etc to the Liberal Democrats??

    In a General Election scenario: because the blaze and glare of a one off by-election bears little similarity to a General….the blue-votes-for-yellow are unlikely to happen again at the next GE !

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