Oldham by-election

One day I’m going to write a generic post by-election post labelled (insert constituency name here) that I can repost after every by-election. Until that day, here’s my traditional answer to what last night’s by-election tells us about the national political picture: not much.

By-election are extremely strange beasts. They take place in a single constituency that may be completely untypical of the country as a whole, they normally have no impact at all upon who will be running the country the next day, they have far greater campaigning intensity than any other election. After every by-election I post the same conclusion – if they show much the same as the national polls suggest they tell us nothing new, if they show something different it’s probably to do with the unique and different circumstances of by-election. In this case the opposition party has held onto a safe seat. This is exactly what we should expect unless they are tanking in the national polls, and Labour aren’t: despite Corbyn’s poor ratings and the constant news stories of Labour infighting their level of support is still pootling along at around their general election share. There is no reason to expect UKIP surges either – in the last Parliament UKIP had soared from 3% to the mid-teens, so almost every by-election saw them surging, but now we are comparing their support to what they got in the 2015 general election, after their breakthrough. This is a good local result for Labour, but doesn’t tell us much new.

That’s not to say it’s not important. By-elections have a significant effect on the political narrative and in that sense this is a very good result for Labour (or, depending on your point of view, for Jeremy Corbyn). If this by-election had gone differently it would have been part of a different narrative, it would have been all about Labour in crisis, their traditional working class support fracturing to UKIP. It would still have been over interpreting a by-election, but it would almost certainly have happened and it’s been avoided. In that sense, it’s an important victory.

A final note about the polling – there wasn’t any (I don’t know whether to be amused or depressed by the handful of comments I’ve seen about it being a another polling failure. Nothing to do with us mate!). By election polling used to be very rare, then in the last Parliament we were suddenly spoilt, with Survation and Ashcroft polls for most By-elections. This time we are back to having no real evidence to go on, to relying on what commentators have been told by the campaigns, what it “feels like” on the doorstep and in vox pops and all that sort of nonsense. I suspect the collective commentariat have got carried away with what would have made an interesting narrative to report, rather than dull old “safe seat held”. It’s a reminder that without any proper polling By-elections can be pretty hard things to call.


270 Responses to “Oldham by-election”

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  1. @MrJones,

    I think one of the consequences of centuries of imperialism (not just by us, but the Ottomans and those before them) is that the Middle East doesn’t have a very well defined set of populations that you can divide up into little homogenous countries. A region will have Sunni Arab settlements, Shia Arab settlements, Turkmen settlements, Kurdish settlements, Yazidi settlements etc, etc all jumbled up. There isn’t a simple way to break them all apart, so you either have to engage in widespread community displacement (a la partition in India, or ethnic cleansing in the Balkans) or you have to find a political settlement that enables them to coexist under one polity.

    Given the fractious nature of their relationships, the “simplest” way to do this is with oppression. Simply allow one of the groups to dominate, give them control of the security services and let them massacre a few thousand people whenever they get uppity. That’s traditionally what’s happened, with outside countries supporting the oppressors or the oppressed depending on what suited their geo-political goals (in practice “which side are Communists”).

    Neo-conservatism was invented by former liberals who got fed up of tolerating dictators (or even supporting them, in Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East) and wondered if it would possibly to simply crush them all with force and replace them with democrats. The fall of Communism opened up an opportunity to try this. History will probably tell us that the answer to the question was “probably not”.

    So, I guess we’re back to tolerating dictators again, and begging them not to massacre too many people whilst we gently coax them towards plurality and the rule of law.

  2. YouGov’s analysis of the May 2015 problem & their response.

    https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/12/07/analysis-what-went-wrong-our-ge15-polling-and-what/

    They’re going to interview us oldies more – thus increasing my Anthony-funded income. Yay!

  3. @ Nei A

    Wonderfully cogent. Welcome to Colin’s “They were better off under their Dictator” brigade.”

  4. Ours arms industry NEEDS “our” tyrannical dictators!

  5. Barbazenzero

    “Wrong. Many Cantons are not contiguous.”

    I didn’t say contiguous.

    I defined “natural” as a polity where the losing side in a vote didn’t start shooting.

  6. Neil A

    “I think one of the consequences of centuries of imperialism (not just by us, but the Ottomans and those before them) is that the Middle East doesn’t have a very well defined set of populations that you can divide up into little homogenous countries.”

    I agree that’s the problem.

    One not very nice solution that works is a dictator.

    A potentially better solution that doesn’t seem to be working out too well is national scale democracy.

    So seems to me either go back to dictator mode or try a more cantonal version of democracy.

  7. Oldnat – depends how old a nat you are. If you’re 60-70 we might interview you less.

  8. Anthony

    :-)

    You doing a new thread on the report?

  9. Mr Jones

    Of your 3 options, Federation appears preferable to the other two-both of which usually end in slaughter.

    Some of the analysis on Syria I have read foresees Federal Structures. Iraq seems to be constructed that way now-though the Kurdish bit seems more & more like a separate ( & very successful) country. But I suppose thats the point ?

  10. Never been asked yet-perhaps I will now :-)

  11. LOUISWALSHVOTESGREEN

    Does anyone have an idea of the geographical spread of the new Labour members/associates that have joined since May?

    Not really. We had a constituency breakdown of full members for the election of Ed Miliband in 2010, but only total numbers this time. There were around 177,500 ballot papers issued in 2010 and what evidence we have suggests that total Labour Party membership didn’t rise much over the next five years[1].

    The number of full members who could vote in 2015 was around 294,000[2], so an increase of maybe 55%. We also know there have been reports of maybe another 60,000 joining since the electoral roll closed in August (though many of these may have voted as affiliates or supporters).

    Because the London Mayoral selection was carried out at the same time as the Leadership we have a total figure of full members for London then of around 63,900[3]. At around 22% this is clearly disproportionate, but I calculated the figures for 2010 and London made up 21% then, so it’s not a new problem and suggests that the new, post-May members[4] are similarly distributed to the old ones and not any more London-concentrated as some have suggested.

    Within regions at a constituency level it may be different of course, but there already were seats that had larger memberships than you might expect (often university towns) and those that seemed to have too few (often safe seats run by and rewarding local cliques). There seems to be a belief that the new members are all trendy middle-class types in the ‘wrong’ places – this seems to be a variant on the ‘Children’s Crusade’ myth of all Corbyn supporters being teenage Trots. There was direct evidence that contradicted that (not that our all-knowing media took any notice) and it’s possible that these latest views of the new members are no more securely based.

    In fact, because the new members would mainly have been recruited nationally (though some of the immediate post-election tranche would have been campaign contacts), you would expect them to be more evenly spread across GB and perhaps even more likely to come from those areas where past recruitment had been lackadaisical. You do wonder whether some of the reported tensions are less because of ideology than because new recruits are trying to shake things up.

    [1] Quotes for pre-election membership were in the 190-200,000 range, though the figures complied by the HoC Library for instance, may reflect a tendency to include people who wouldn’t be sent ballot papers eg recently lapsed members.

    [2] Based on 245,675 votes cast on a reported turnout of 83.5%

    [3] Based on 51,768 votes with 81% turnout.

    [4] Many of whom will have joined before Corbyn was even a candidate.

  12. OLDNAT

    They’re going to interview us oldies more – thus increasing my Anthony-funded income. Yay!

    Oh great! Like everything else in the UK in the last fifty years the solution is to throw more money at the Baby Boomers and Before.

    I’m interested to note that part of the problem seems to be that the under-25s were unrepresentative and probably weighted up too much. Something I’ve commented on often enough here (and that Anthony was clearly worried about).

    The full report by Anthony and Prof Doug Rivers is here:

    https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/x4ae830iac/YouGov%20%E2%80%93%20GE2015%20Post%20Mortem.pdf

  13. Neil A – “So, I guess we’re back to tolerating dictators again, and begging them not to massacre too many people whilst we gently coax them towards plurality and the rule of law.”

    One solution may be to restore the Hashemites. They led the uprising against the Ottomans in 1916, and controlled Saudi, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Then we went and interfered and broke the whole thing up with Sykes-Picot. It was a mistake and if we’d left well alone, they’d all be what Jordan is now, a semi-constitutional monarchy.

    I notice that ISIS hasn’t actually made any threats against them, and that’s probably because King Abdullah is descended from Mohammed’s great-grandfather (and that was the thing that allowed them to lead the revolt in 1916 too). Given the weight the ME puts on genealogy etc, they might be the best solution.

  14. Colin

    “though the Kurdish bit seems more & more like a separate ( & very successful) country. But I suppose thats the point ?”

    indeed – less time spent shooting each other means more time doing other stuff

  15. re the “need” for dictators

    It’s much too soon to be certain, but Myanmar and Venezuela suggest there is hope for democracy in some countries. Mind you, as far as I know neither of these is racked by religious hatred.

  16. Barbenzero –

    Calling Baarle-Hertog *one* exclave is to vastly underestimate the sheer glory of its boundaries.

  17. Folks from a country whose head of state is unelected and whose legislator contains the biggest unelected chamber in the world….. discussing democracy in the middle east. Maybe sort out your own country first

  18. @COUPER

    The House of Lords used to be thought of as a place where the great and good could add their sixpenneth to improve and correct the sometimes intemperate and incoherent ramblings of the more representative but less informed members of the legislature in the commons. Other communities have village elders who do a similar job. In both cases, this used to work pretty well.

  19. ANTHONY WELLS
    Calling Baarle-Hertog *one* exclave is to vastly underestimate the sheer glory of its boundaries.

    Quite so and point taken. In my defence, knowing that I was being asked to go somewhat off-topic I was aiming to keep my post as concise as possible.

    MRJONES

    Fair enough, but you did say “where the factions within the boundaries don’t start shooting after a vote“. In practice they don’t over things like politics but OTOH the Swiss do have a myriad of state-owned weaponry in private hands thanks to their conscripted citizen army approach to defence.

  20. @Couper,

    As I’ve pointed out before. We are, in effect, a democracy with an elected head of state.

    The public have the option, if they wish to take it, of electing republicans at the ballot box on a platform of abolishing the monarchy.

    The fact that they haven’t means, in effect, that the electorate have chosen, over and over and over, by massive majorities, to have Her Maj as their head of state. Her mandate is far more decisive than any president ever (credibly) elected.

    Don’t mix up your disdain for the choices the electorate makes, with the idea that those choices weren’t freely and democratically made.

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