Labour’s huge Oldham victory in context


8:23 am - January 14th 2011

by Sunder Katwala    


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Congratulations to Labour’s Debbie Abrahams who has won the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election with an increased majority in the party’s first by-election outing under Ed Miliband’s leadership.

The result is a disappointment for LibDem candidate Elwyn Watkins, following his successful court challenge to ex-Labour MP Phil Woolas.

Strikingly, Labour’s majority and vote share was higher than in the 1997 General Election. The Coalition parties saw their joint share fall from 58% to 44.7% (-13.3 on 2010). The swing from the joint LibDem and Conservative to Labour was 11.8%, which is similar to the current opinion poll standings.

This is the result for the major three parties (out of ten candidates).

Debbie Abrahams (Labour) 14718 42.1% (+10.2)
Elwyn Watkins (LibDem) 11160 31.9% (+0.3)
Kashif Ali (Conservative) 4481 12.8% (-13.6)

UKIP: 2029 (5.8%)
BNP 1560
Green 530
Monster Loony: 145
English Dems: 144
Pirate: 96
Bus Pass Elvis: 67

Labour majority: 3558
Turnout: 34930

Turnout at 48% in a by-election held in the first fortnight in January has been higher than most commentators anticipated.

The Liberal Democrats are taking consolation from holding their vote share up. But election expert John Curtice has cast doubt on the importance of this, given that it seems to have been achieved through the collapse of the Tory vote share. This, Curtice argues, is a weak indicator of how most LibDem MPs will perform against Conservative opposition.

Curtice has told the BBC “it is a night of quiet pleasure for Labour if not necessarily riotous celebration” and a worrying result for the Conservatives.

2010
Labour: 31.9
LibDem: 31.6
Tory: 26.4

Labour majority 103

The by-election majority is larger than the 1997 General Election result (despite the turnout then being 25 points higher).

1997
Labour: 41.7
LibDem: 35.4
Tory: 19.7

Labour majority 3389
Turnout 73.92%

2001
Labour: 38.6
LibDem: 32.6
Tory: 16.1

Labour majority 2726
Turnout 61.0%

2005
Labour: 41.4
LibDem: 33.2
Tory: 18.2

Labour majority 3590
Turnout 57.3%

The constituency was new in 1997 – and the results since can be found here.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


Congrats to Debbie Abrahams but the Labour victory wasn’t a great surprise.
But despite the doom mongers on here claiming the end of the Lib Dem vote they increased their share! So very well done to Elwyn Watkins, it just goes to show that the public still won’t fall for Labours’ smear campaign against the Lib Dems.

2. Anon E Mouse

Well done to Labour for this win…

This, Curtice argues, is a weak indicator of how most LibDem MPs will perform against Conservative opposition.

Certainly the dynamics in a Lib-Con marginal are different to those in a Lib-Lab marginal, but this does actually seem to be good news for the Lib Dems.
– their vote share in a strongly contested seat didn’t drop in line with national figures
– the Conservatives took most of the losses despite a rise in national polling since the election.
If that pattern was to hold at a general election, then they might be able to hang on to most of their seats in defiance of UNS, and maybe even pick a couple up from close Conservative/Lib Dem marginals.

I think they’ll probably be quite happy with that result.

A dire result for the Liberals, failed to take possession of a seat vacated by a scumbag, their vote only held up thanks to Tories voting tactically

This was always going to be a dislikeable result. I’d have liked the local labour party to get a deserved kicking over the woolas affair, but equally would have disliked a lib dem or tory win.

If I lived in the constituency I’d have voted Green, Monster Raving Loony, Pirate or Bus Pass Elvis.

It has to be mentioned, as the point was so vociferously made by some people on the left (Lee Jasper for example) that Jack Straw talking about white girls being ”easy meat” for predatory Pakistani gangs, will have helped Labour win the election.

It sounds daft to me, but the allegation was blatantly made on television, so I thought that it should not be overlooked, as when you say such things, you have to live with them.
So Jasper for one, probably thinks it was Straw that got out the racist vote for Labour.

Btw, him being Ken Livingstone’s advisor on race and policing was the reason I couldn’t vote for Livingstone in the London mayoral election.

Schmidt @ 4

Well said Herr Schmidt – you can put what fanciful interpretation on this result that you choose but if the Tories hadn’t voted Lib Dem desperately to keep them afloat – the true support for the LD’s would be revealed. Splutter all you like Lib Dems – this is a hollow runners-up result for you and you know it.

8. Sunder Katwala

This is a cross-post, and I don’t get to pick the headline. In my view, “Labour’s Oldham victory in context” would be closer than [huge] victory. Curtice’s account seems to me accurate.

Well, as a lib dem I’m sorry that our candidate lost but there are two bright spots. The first is that at least Woolas is out of parliament, the second is that we managed to improve on our vote share. Another personal reason as to why I’m not too upset is that Watkins was from the right of the party and was in favour of fees so I’m somewhat pleased we don’t have another devotedly pro-coalition MP.

The downside of course is that our voting block has clearly shifted rightwards which may stand us well in constituencies where our main opponents are tories but we will have to work hard over the next few years to rebuild our centre-left support.

@ 8 Sunder

Agreed.. “huge” victory is totally unwarranted.

@ 9 George

“but we will have to work hard over the next few years to rebuild our centre-left support.”

Yeah…good luck with that one! Given the hostile reaction to long term LD voters like me on Lib Dem Voice you are facing an uphill struggle. The amount of hostility and self-delusion evident amongst LD “loyalists” suggests that the prospects of resurrecting a truly left of centre character for the LD’s may be a dead letter.

The fact that so many left of centre, social-democratic types have abandoned the LD’s over the past 8 months means you will be left trying to fish in a much more centre-right pool.

Let’s face it, the only thing that saved you from total humiliation in O&S was all those Tory voters “lending” you their votes in the hope you could keep Labour out.

“But despite the doom mongers on here claiming the end of the Lib Dem vote they increased their share! So very well done to Elwyn Watkins, it just goes to show that the public still won’t fall for Labours’ smear campaign against the Lib Dems.

Amazing textbook example of delusional LibDemmery.
Don’t you just love it how proper d-e-l-u-s-i-o-n-a-l these people are.
They increased their share (by 0.3%) because the Tories more than halved their vote (from 26% to 12%) to prop up their ailing coalition partners. I mean, look! Read the figures! Stop fooling yourself. Your party is looking knackered. End of.

Vince – comment 1

So you think the Lib Dem vote holding up had nothing to do with Tories voting Lib Dem to try and help them avoid embarrassment ?

How do you explain the collapse of the Tory vote- down 13.6% ?

Claude@

I agree with your comment about Lib Dem delusion.

It’s quite bizarre how they are trying to spin things today.

Desperate stuff.

“The fact that so many left of centre, social-democratic types have abandoned the LD’s over the past 8 months means you will be left trying to fish in a much more centre-right pool.”

The fact is that these people are actually Labour voters who didn’t vote Labour because of all the crappy things Labour did in power – to somehow say Labour are now okay to vote for because they’re out of power is to have collective amnesia about anything that happened between 1997 and 2010. I’m sure all those dead people in Iraq will be pleased Labour won last night.

14

Not all of them are “natural” Labour voters, tho’ a good number probably are. I could never bring myself to vote Labour even before the nauseating New Labour experiment. Like many I voted LD unenthusiastically as the “least worst” option; it’s a bit of a conundrum what to vote now – it definitely won’t be LD, but I couldn’t bring myself to vote Labour either….. Green perhaps as a bit of a protest? (not that it will make a huge difference in my seat where the Tory got 55% last GE anyway 🙁 )

Note that the Tory and Lib Dem vote combined beats Labour.
An electoral pact would have made this a Coalition seat. At the mo everyone is ruling this out for the next general election, but the more Labour badmouth the LibDems, the more such an unthinkable thing becomes thinkable IMHO.

@16 great interpretation there, if the combined anti-Tory votes were added up the last election would be very different (as would every other one if those who lost were allowed to form retrospective alliances). Has anyone else noticed how Clegg looks like he’s about to burst into tears at any time? Perhaps its simply the result of having to sit near George Osborne

#12 Maybe the 13% Tory drop is due to less people voting for them? I think it’s a leap to then say it’s due to Tory’s voting for Lib Dems in order to save them face?

I can’t see what’s in it for Tory voters to do this, most of them hate the Lib Dems so why support them?

I realise that the Tories voting tactical theory fits your agenda doesn’t actually make it true.

Claude/sandy: “Squeeze the third party to vote tactically for you” is pretty much the Lib Dem’s approach in every seat they contest ever, regardless of who the third party is. I’m not sure that you can really imply their impending doom from the fact that they did it again. (Indeed, as I said above, that it continued to work is more encouraging than not for them, given that their national performance would imply it becoming much less effective)

Flowerpower/16: By less than a thousand votes, though, so that’s only actually a coalition win if pretty much all of their voters vote for the unity candidate. Take off the people who wouldn’t vote Lib Dem if they were part of the Conservative, Unionist, Liberal and Democratic Party, and the Conservatives who would never vote for a Lib Dem because they’re not right-wing enough, and it looks less likely.

(Or, shorter: I think Labour would still have won the seat comfortably under AV)

Troll “Note that the Tory and Lib Dem vote combined beats Labour.”

Oh dear, and in the 1980’s the Labour and Lib Dem vote in most places , at most elections beat the tories. But we still had Thatcher with a huge majority, and you lot had no problem with that.

What the last 30 years has shown us is that if you vote Lie Dem in big numbers, you get tories running govt. When Lie dem voters switch to Labour you boot the tories out. The last election, many pissed off Labour voters voted Lie Dem because they thought they were better than New Labour. That is why there is so much anger and disbelief at Clegg, and his merry band of traitors. In this by-election a lot of tories voted Lie Dem to keep Labour out. And a lot of Lie Dems voted Labour. When Lie Dems switch to Labour, tories get the boot.

@14
I’m sure all those dead people in Iraq will be pleased Labour won last night.

I’ve heard some low stuff in my life spurted around for the sake of political pointscoring, but this one takes the biscuit.

@14
“The fact is that these people are actually Labour voters who didn’t vote Labour because of all the crappy things Labour did in power –“.

And…? What sort of argument is that?
If anything, doesn’t it say something about the state of the LibWrecks that they couldn’t even keep them for any more than five minutes?

Take a look here instead of clinging on to delusion and see what your pals are doing to people.

@14
“I’m sure all those dead people in Iraq will be pleased Labour won last night.”

And what party do you support? The tories (who shrilled for the Iraq war more than Labour?) Or the Lib Dmes who have now given up as a party of their own and have joined forces with the Iraq shrillers?

I don’t really know how to interpret these results. I would probably tend towards the tory tactical vote explanation, but the numbers themselves don’t necessarily support this interpretation over others.

One other thing would make me pause. On Radio 4 the other morning, they interviewed the head of the local Tory party, who said that their main enemy was the Lib Dems, and that some Tory people she’d talked to had said they would vote Labour tactically to keep the Lib Dems out! That was certainly a surprise.

@14

“I’m sure all those dead people in Iraq will be pleased Labour won last night.”

why so? did they vote Labour as well?

“I would probably tend towards the tory tactical vote explanation”

In many respects the conservative supporters are the best at tactical voting. On a national level they realise the FPTP system means they have to vote conservative despite some massive bust ups on issues like europe. When it comes to euro elections they vote UKIP en mass knowing it is the best way to signal actual beliefs.

Just as an aside, if you look at the Lab/Con swing this was the second best first by-election of a parliament for the main opposition party since the War.

#18

Realistically the best explanation is that a lot of Tory voters stayed at home and a lot of Tory voters voted Lib Dem. Otherwise there is no way to explain why the Labour vote went up while the turnout was lower than at a GE (though very creditable for a by-election in January). Much of the increased Labour vote must have been disillusioned Lib Dem voters (some of it may have been Tory voters, some may have been previous stay-at-homes though not many otherwise the turnout would’ve been greater), therefore to keep the Lib Dem vote the same much of it must have been tactical Tory votes.

I really don’t see how you can explain your way out of it unless 3000 Labour voters moved into the area a couple of months ago.

@26 Planeshift: “In many respects the conservative supporters are the best at tactical voting.”

A good argument. Is there any evidence that Conservative voters tactically shift to Lib Dem to remove Labour more strongly than vice versa? In other words, do Labour voters shift in the same numbers as Conservatives?

Given the damage that Labour did to this country – especially since Brown took over from Blair – I am amazed that they could find 14,718 people who were prepared to vote for them.

Having read your comments policy, I expect this one will not appear. Your comments seem a little one sided? I believe in free speech which is why my own blog is uncensored – although I reserve the right to disagree and comment back…

Vince @ 18

I realise that the Tories voting tactical theory fits your agenda doesn’t actually make it true.

There is evidence from before the by-election to support this theory. The Populus poll showed 22% of those who had voted Tory in May planning to vote LibDem in the by-election.

@31 Flowerpower

You are right; even most LD’s accept that the only reason their vote didn’t totally collapse was that Tories voted tactically in an attempt to keep Labour out. The electoral arithmetic is obvious; granted O&S may be a fairly unique case, but even many LD members and supporters accept that their result isn’t a true reflection of their “core” support, a large section of which on the left has abandoned them.

I daresay the Blue and Yellow Tories think they have the country stitched up, and the banksters are reckoning on bonuses everlasting. All they have to do is vote for whichever one of them has the best chance of beating Labour. The only safe Labour seats will be those where the total Labour vote exceeds that of Tories and LibDems together. This didn’t happen in Oldham and Saddleworth, but I am sure the political strategists noticed the likely development of this outcome. Only cutting a deal with either Tories or LibDems can produce Labour victories, thus ensuring that the right will rule forever. With or without AV.

Briar/33: While that would give Labour a difficult time (though not an impossible one), it only works if most of the Conservative and Lib Dem voters also agree to the plan. While the Lib Dems have lost a lot of their left-leaning voters recently, they haven’t yet lost all of them. Similarly, a lot of the Conservative voters in the current Lib-Lab marginals wouldn’t necessarily vote for the Lib Dems if there wasn’t a Conservative candidate: they’d vote UKIP instead.

It’s also a proposal that benefits the Conservatives considerably more than the Lib Dems. (I can’t find a single plausible scenario under either AV or FPTP in which the Lib Dems would do better by taking that sort of deal than they would contesting the election as an independent party)


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  3. cheesley

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  4. Tyrone C.

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  5. Chris Patmore

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  6. Shahbaz Husain

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