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. Neil A
    Chris Lane

    Careful now… the Scots will be complaining you’re always going on about Devon.

  2. @Chris,

    I live 2 minutes walk from St.Boniface…

  3. Re Oldham Liberals.

    They never went away in the South Pennines.

    Re France.

    Sarko has never gone for blocking pacts against the FN.

  4. Millie

    Sorry. This Devon place is hard to find on our maps (using BBC map projection – but from the north), so unlikely that anyone here would mind.


    Perspective is everything. :-)

  5. Old Nat

    Very good.

    Scotland upside down looks like Greece…

  6. Millie

    I’d opt for some of Greece’s sun! Although I’m about to bottle a couple of gallons of “Chateau Ayrshire” from my vine – it’ll have to be used for cooking (unless I’m really desperate, or have guests I dislike :-) )

    No map, of course, is “upside down”, but convention makes people think that way.

    Still, can you imagine a world in which a publicly funded broadcaster would portray the geography of its area in such a distorted way?

    That would be incredible! :-)

    Scotland upside down looks like Greece…

    Quite so. As Olivia Manning’s Yakimov put it: “Athens, the Edinburgh of the south!”

    See here.

  8. @BZ

    Belfast is just where Istanbul would be. Please don’t tell me you have another quote comparing those two…

    Belfast is just where Istanbul would be. Please don’t tell me you have another quote comparing those two…

    Alas, not.

    Back to polling, I wonder if BoJo’s article in the Telegraph today is the first shot in his campaign for the Con leadership in the belief that Cameron may be forced out sooner rather than later. Polling on that eventuality and the contest in general would be interesting.

  10. @BZ

    Oddly enough, I was just about to comment on the same subject, and found your post.

    Unpalatable it may be, but I have held the view for some time that cooperation with Assad was the only realistic way forward for the Allies. It is probably the only way to defeat ISIL/Daesh. I would go further and say that in dealing openly with Assad, and therefore the Russians, we would be pursuing the best option for an overall settlement.

    Cameron, in his continued hostility to this option has painted himself into a corner somewhat. I can’t help thinking that he is influenced by a reluctance to concede that his and Hague’s previous plan to bomb Syria was ill-judged.

  11. Millie

    The reason is that the primary motive is to bring Syria under a pro-Western rather than pro-Russian leader.

  12. @Millie,

    I think the problem is that after several years of the Syrian government massacring Sunni civilians with barrel bombs and other attacks, if the West sided with Assad then the various Sunni groups would be forced to ally with IS.

    Out of the frying pan into the fire.

  13. MILLIE
    Unpalatable it may be, but I have held the view for some time that cooperation with Assad was the only realistic way forward for the Allies. It is probably the only way to defeat ISIL/Daesh.

    Given that we are where we are, I’m beginning to think that may well prove to be the leastworst option.

    The grauniad cover and link to the BoJo article here and it’s interesting to note that the comments on both articles is pretty positive. Some proper polling on the topic would be really interesting.

  14. NEIL A

    I am pretty sure we wanted rid of Assad before all that.

    Given our other alliances (and stated government policy towards China and India), it is difficult to believe that human rights are a key consideration in all this.

  15. I don’t understand why the Vienna talks on Syria aren’t reported in UK. If they were, we would here less simplistic “solutions” from all quarters.

    The next meeting could be this month.

    All the key parties are involved-all with conflicting interests. It isn’t going to be easy, but if any of the unilateral “solutions” being promulgated were actioned-like “siding with Assad “against IS, the whole thing would come apart at the seems.

    Saudi is assembling representatives from Syrian rebel groups in Riyadh in the coming days, with the goal of deciding on a list. acceptable to all. If US/France/UK drop preconditions about the departure of Assad AND Russia can broker a phased step down before Elections, AND all the other conflicting interests can be reso;lved, then MAYBE a ceasefire will allow a new anti-IS coalition to assemble the requisite army & remove IS from Syria , prior to a transition of power.

    Its a huge ask-but its the only game in town . If it breaks up we are back to any number of proxy wars being fought in Syria.

  16. COLIN

    Allowing those talk to progress is Jeremy Corbyn’s position, I believe.


    Has anyone proposed that that should not be “allowed” to “progress” ???

  18. Re allowing Assad to remain, we do seem to be much better at breaking eggs than at making omelettes. In retrospect, the people of Iraq and Libya would probably be much better off now if Saddam and Gaddafi had remained in place, however tyrannical their regimes. Likewise, if Assad had remained in firm charge of Syria, the majority of its people would surely have been better off now. From what I recall, his was, after all, a comparatively secular regime with universal education, opportunities for women and a reasonable standard of living. A comparison with the western-backed Saudi regime is instructive.

  19. Looks like the US has bombed S

  20. Its amusing how the “They were better off under their Dictator” brigade always appear on these occasions.

    Presumably they do so from the comfort of their pluralist liberal democracy-unlike the Marsh Arabs, the Barzani Kurds, the Dujail Shiites, the women & children of Halabja, the victims of the Green Terror, the Lockerbie relatives, or the victims of Assad’s war crimes recorded by UN commissioner Paulo Sergio Pinheiro,

  21. Looks like the US has bombed Syrian Army positions and the Fascists have made large gains in France.

  22. Colin

    It is Hobbesian, true.

    Anarchy is worse than dictatorship.

    Dictatorship is worse than democracy.

    It is a shame that in Egypt, it was decided that the second part of that was ignored.

    Democracy can only emerge from within a country.

  23. @Carfrew – “Meanwhile, talking of green carp, Greenistas may be pleased to learn that in the Times it says we’ve possibly reached “peak CO2”. Carbon Dioxide levels appear to now be falling as economies become more energy efficient, renewables start to have an impact, and China’s using less coal.”

    Bit dubious about that. October 2015 CO2 measurements were c 2.5ppm above Oct 2014, which were about 2.5ppm above Oct 2013. There is no real sign of a slow down in measured atmospheric CO2 – if anything, the rate of increase is speeding up.

    Perhaps the rate at which we are pumping the stuff out is about to start to slow, but given impacts on natural CO2 stores like peat from rising temperatures and the fact that CO2 lasts for around a century in the atmosphere, we’re unlikely to see actual falls in CO2 in terms of ppm for a while yet.


    I am coming to the conclusion that Democracy and Islam-in its heartland countries-are in fact incompatible.

    The alternatives which “work” seem to be oppressive military /one party regimes-or Theocracies .

  25. …………..and in both cases Freedom of Speech & Thought is denied-so opposition is always crushed rather than accommodated.

  26. I don’t really see how the anarchy in Libya or Syria could have been avoided even without, Western (and other intervention.

    The protests didn’t come from nothing. Both economies were tanking up (Tunesia too) with 25% unemployment (and growing) and layoffs in the public sector. No money left to bribe those who couldn’t be suppressed.

  27. COLIN

    That is simply not true. Egypt was a democracy under the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the secularists who overthrew democracy there.

    Iran is also Islamic and was a democracy until 1953. Three guesses who put an end to that.

    What may be true is that the democratic choices those countries make may not be liked in the West (or Russia for that matter).

  28. Those of us who fight elections in seats with a large ethnic vote must discount this nonsense about postal votes. Ethnic voters are no more likely to have postal votes than any other voters, unless there is postal vote skulduggery (candidates falsely signing ethnic voters up to PVs then harvesting them).

    A reason I would put forward as more plausible is that often ethnic voters live often in a local ‘bubble’ (an unkinder word would be ghetto). A white British person will most likely buy a national paper, watch national TV, and therefore be very aware if a General Election is going on because it’s in all the papers, but not know about local elections or a by-election because the papers aren’t full of that. By-elections are also not the talk of the local pub or at the local market.

    Whereas many ethnic voters only read local, often foreign-language, newspapers and only watch local satellite, foreign-language TV, and only speak to fellow ethnic voters and rarely stray outside their local area. As a result they know if there’s a local by-election on as it’s the talk of the local ethnic newspaper, it’s the talk of the local Pakistani/Bangladeshi community association, etc.

    Add to this what I read in some articles about this by-election where interviewees in Oldham were quite open that the ‘biraderi’ system was in full swing.

    Therefore, differential turnout. It’s a theory, pull it to shreds.

  29. Afternoon folks. I wasn’t about over the weekend, so I hope nobody’s asked or answered the next question.

    Does anyone have an idea of the geographical spread of the new Labour members/associates that have joined since May? I can remember on Election Night that John Curtice talked about Labour doing well in the North East and in London, but were more or less static elsewhere in England (and got their posteriors handed to them in Scotland!). Under FPTP, there’s not really much point in Labour locking up 50% of the vote in the North of England, if they’re not going to be more competitive in the Midlands. I haven’t really looked too much at the crossbreaks (I know, crossbreaks are unreliable and pointless and useless) since the election, but has there been any signs of Labour making any improvement either geographically or demographically in voting groups that they won in 1997/2001 but have lost since? Being brutally honest, if it’s a core left vote strategy (35% vote anyone?) that Labour are going for, it would require a monstrous GOTV campaign.

    Any Labour insiders (or just better-informed political dorks) with anything to add?

  30. Looks as though centrist and conservative parties have won in Venezuela. They needed too considering the state of the economy.


    @” Egypt was a democracy under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    :-) :-) :-)

    @”Iran is also Islamic and was a democracy until 1953″

    Your calling the Pahlavi Dynasty’s rule ” Democracy” ?

    Hello to you from a sunny Bournemouth East.
    Your questions are pertinent indeed.
    I think it looks as if the revival of the ‘Party’ is within the old Labour areas; where the coal fields were, plus London, plus and including ‘BME’ voters.

    I think J.Corbyn hopes to mobilise these voters.

    It leads to oppositional politics I think

  33. @Colin, your smiley faces will not change reality.

    And I’m pretty sure Hawthorn is referring to the western military ouster of the elected leader of Iran, to be replaced by the Pahlavi.


  34. There is no getting away from it, some countries, including those where the people hold strong tribal or religious affiliations, don’t really do democracy. People may actually vote, but who they vote for is dictated by their tribe or their religion so other political considerations hold no sway. In many ways they are often indistinguishable from dictatorships. The Arab Spring was not about democracy. People just wanted their own sort of dictator.

  35. “What this episode shows is that Farage doesn’t really understand Conservative voters any more than he understands Labour ones.”


    Me neither.

  36. @Alec

    Well I suppose the idea is that if this is the peak of shoving in man-made CO2, and it hitherto keeps declining, then hopefully that’ll start to diminish the release of CO2 from natural stores in turn?

    But yeah, figured there might be a catch. Let’s hope we don’t get some massive CO2 release from all those methane hydrates under the ocean etc…

  37. @ Colin “Its amusing how the “They were better off under their Dictator” brigade always appear on these occasions.”

    I guess your comment is aimed at rebutting mine.

    Is it really your sincerely held belief that the majority of the inhabitants of Libya, Iraq and Syria are better off today than when their respective dictators were in firm control?

    To say that they would have been better off if their dictators had been left alone is not to condone the behaviour of those dictators, or minimise the suffering of their victims. It is simply a matter of comparing death and destruction before and since.

    Of course, we are highly selective about which despots we attack and those we leave alone.


    All the neighbouring constituencies and my own on the south coast have just seen LP membership triple. Apart from Hastings and Kemptown, none are marginal seats for Labour.

    Recently, I went to a meeting organised for a rural (largish) village in the constituency and was amazed that 20 people turned up – unheard of for a branch that has been defunct for the last 15y. In one of the more affluent wards in the neighbouring town, the membership has increased from 180 to over 800.

    These increases will not turn the constituency red but there is no doubt of it being the Corbyn effect… and there seems to be a good spread of different age groups. In this area, no-one could describe the new membership as being exclusively young and naive.


    @”Is it really your sincerely held belief that the majority of the inhabitants of Libya, Iraq and Syria are better off today than when their respective dictators were in firm control?”

    Only a Libyan, an Iraqi or a Syrian can answer that……………and then you have to be careful about which ones to ask………….and what question.

    One for YouGov.

    More seriously -being positive-the suppression of the institutions needed to construct democracy-Independent Courts, Civil Society, Unpoliticised security forces, etc etc over decades , in countries with absolutist regimes ,naturally gives rise to huge vacuums when those regimes are removed. And during the lengthy period of adjustment, the Tribal & Religious Sectarian forces seem step in to attempt control .

    In Iraq they seem to be coming through the worst phases-though Sectarian forces have clearly produced Government s which marginalise certain groups. If this can be worked out of their culture, I would have thought they stand a chance-though anti-Sunni governance has now produced the IS controled areas which they must reclaim.

    Libya is in the throes of the vacuum phase.& predictably IS is stepping in -with its eyes on Sirte’s oil ( presumably in response to losses in Syria/Iraq) . Reports that Politicians from Libya’s rival parliaments reached a tentative power-sharing agreement in Tunisia on Sunday, might signal a willingness to unite against IS-but its in the balance , & NATO are ready to intervene. Not as good as Iraq-not yet as bad as Syria.

    Syria is on the brink of the vacuum phase-if the parties in Vienna cannot arrange a phased transition to elections which does not allow a vacuum of power to be filled with the nightmare waiting in the wings.

    But its a struggle in these places-and it seems to me that Islam’s corrosive & bloody schism is at the heart of it all.

  40. “Looks like the US has bombed Syrian Army positions”

    IIRC there are som enclaves of SA been holding out near Isis land around airfields and such.

    Hope this was an accident and not tempting the Russians to fire off a few S-300s.

    (RAF should double check the targeting info they’re getting to make sure they’re not being used as bait.)

  41. Colin

    “Presumably they do so from the comfort of their pluralist liberal democracy-unlike the Marsh Arabs, the Barzani Kurds… etc”

    The critical element and missing word there is “voluntarily” pluralist i.e. the factions are content to remain in the same polity and not shoot the opposing political party after each election.

    Democracy in Iraq just meant the Shia majority could stuff the Sunni minority instead of the other way round.

    I don’t know what you do about that apart from having
    1) evil dictator
    2) separate countries
    3) a federal system where most of the power is in the natural regions – defined as where the factions within that region don’t start shooting after a lost vote.

    They do have a version of democracy in those places – the sub components of tribes meet up and discuss the collective line on some issue or other and then send reps to larger tribal groupings who do the same. The difference is that process has a regional limit rather than a national one.

  42. Syzygy

    “and there seems to be a good spread of different age groups. In this area, no-one could describe the new membership as being exclusively young and naive.”

    Part of it will be all the CND/vegan types coming back from the LDs and Greens.

  43. “Only a Libyan, an Iraqi or a Syrian can answer that……………and then you have to be careful about which ones to ask………….and what question.
    One for YouGov.”


    Nicely dodged.

    But if you don’t feel able to answer that rather fundamental question, why so confident in pronouncing on the affairs of the region?

  44. addendum

    maybe like Swiss cantons

    which may even have come about during the religious wars for similar reasons?

  45. Mr Jones

    Cantonal boundaries are not fixed by outsiders either, but by the locals.

    Barbazenzero knows much more than me about how that works, though.

  46. @MRJONES

    Many of the older ‘new members’ are returnees, rejoining after having left in 2003 over Iraq.

  47. Oldnat

    Sure, they need to follow their natural boundaries.

    (defined imo as where the factions within the boundaries don’t start shooting after a vote)

  48. Syzygy

    Yeah that’s what I mean by CND types.

  49. not meant as an insult – just a category

  50. OLDNAT
    Cantonal boundaries are not fixed by outsiders either, but by the locals.

    Correct. Each Commune can choose which Canton they belong to, if the “new” Canton agrees to have them. Alternatively, they can collaberate with like-minded Communes and form a new Canton, which is the way the Republic and Canton of the Jura was formed in 1979.

    Sure, they need to follow their natural boundaries.

    Wrong. Many Cantons are not contiguous, from the Republic of Geneva in the far West to – perhaps most famously – Canton Schaffhausen in the far North, where moving from field to field can result in your being in Germany or Switzerland almost at random.

    Outside Switzerland, Belgium has at least one eclave [Baarle-Hertog] within the Netherlands as does Spain [Llívia] within France.

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