Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Labour have their [wo]man; but are they losing the ground war?

Yesterday Labour selected Debbie Abrahams as their candidate for the forthcoming Parliamentary by-election in Oldham East & Saddleworth. The vacancy has been been on the cards for five weeks now after the Labour MP Phil Woolas was judged to have contravened election law. Despite initially distancing themselves from Woolas, the Labour Party have delayed the search for a new candidate until the legal proceedings finally came to end 10 days ago. Woolas admitted it was the 'end of the road' after the initial verdict was up held on appeal. So has this delay harmed Labour's chances?

Well, it can't have helped. The situation is certainly a strange one, and Labour would have found it difficult to select before Woolas exhausted all his options. The problem is that although a date for the by-election still hasn't been set (current wisdom suggests putting 3rd February in your diary) the parties have been engaged in a phoney war for months. The Liberal Democrats we always hopeful, although not expectant, that their candidate Elwyn Watkins would win his case and were ready to swarm the constituency if the initial verdict went their way. This has left Labour in a difficult position. They have had to counteract the yellows jumping the starting gun, but they haven't had a name to offer on the doorstep. Now they do they will have to play catch up to get it known.

Oldham East & Saddleworth CLP have gone for an inoffensive candidate in Debbie Abrahams, which is a nice contrast to their previous standard bearer. She was busy losing the Colne Valley seat in the spring so she isn't tainted by the Woolas campaign. Abrahams' performance wasn't very impressive as she managed to take her party from first to third whilst the Tories scored an easy gain. To be fair, the result was very much in line with the regional swing against Labour which would suggest Abrahams is a pretty standard candidate. Labour will be hoping this works in their favour this time as they attempt to fight this by-election on national issues.

The big problem for Labour is that Elwyn Watkins has name recognition in this seat and they can't do a great deal about that. Whoever wins this will do so by controlling the debate. The Lib Dems will be hoping to keep things local and their head start will certainly help them. Whether their efforts can reverse the national swing remains to be seen, but if they lose it certainly won't be through lack of trying!


  1. I do think that this will be interesting By Election, but we will not learn too much from it.

    The background to this is well known, unique and will swamp the general issues, so drawing any conclusions from it will be iffy to say the least.

  2. All very true Mr K, but I'd put a lot of money on memebers of the winning party putting the swing through a seat predictor and claiming to know the result of GE2015!

  3. It will be like all those local election nights...

    "Mr Dimbleby, we only lost 1000 seats, and we expected to lose 2000, therefore we happy. Of course, our opponents only doubled their vote won control of 200 extra Councils, very much worse than they expected...."

  4. Always the way. You know if the Lib Dems lose twenty seats in 2015 it'll be seen as a great victory for them because they weren't wiped off the electoral map.