Labour have held Oldham East & Saddleworth tonight with a 3558 vote majority. This represents a 5% swing to Labour from the Liberal Democrats on the May 2010 General Election results. The turnout of 48% was larger than expected and this will have hurt the Liberal Democrats. They were relying on Labour voters to get complacent following the weekend polls, but the reds' Get Out The Vote operation appears to have worked very well. The result isn't awful for the Liberal Democrats as they have remained above the 30% mark, although this has been helped by Conservatives tactically switching to the LibDems in an, unsuccessful, attempt to keep Labour out. The Tories have been badly squeezed in this contest and their vote has dropped to just 12.8%.
Debbie Abrahams (LAB)
Elwyn Watkins (LD)
Kashif Ali (CON)
Paul Nuttal (UKIP)
Derek Adams (BNP)
Peter Allen (GRN)
The Flying Brick (OMRL)
Stephen Morris (ED)
Loz Kaye (Pirate P.)
David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis P.)
After all the talk and spin that had padded out the hours before the declaration the result is along the lines of what was expected. Labour's increase in vote similar to their recent national polling figures, which would suggest they managed to steer the campaign towards national issues. They fell short of the 45%+ indicated in the weekend constituency polling but many observers had felt this figure was on the high side. Perhaps the most interesting finding in the opinion polls was the degree those who voted Conservative in May were switching to the Liberal Democrats. This tactical voting goes a long way to explaining why the latter held their share of the vote whilst the former saw theirs drop quite sharply. I'm also of the opinion that the Tory vote in 2010 represented a high water mark for them and that their core vote in this constituency is lower than the May result suggests.
Of course, a major issue in analysing this result is which previous election should it be compared it to? Last May is rightly used but already a major facet of the media narrative is Labour have a bigger majority than they did 'at the height of New Labour' in 1997. As I discussed on Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats were defending a by-election gain that year and so their candidate would have enjoyed a personal vote in those figures. 2001 should also be discounted as that result is slightly skewed by the race riots which immediately preceded that year's General Election. So we are left with 2005…which isn't perfect either but probably the best we have.
As the table shows the results for the front two are very similar, although the exact voters who make up the respective totals are probably quite different. The real difference can be found in the Conservative and UKIP figures. The anti-EU party has made quite a bit of ground, by its standards, and this is largely at the expense of the Tories. The relevance to now is that out of the three main party leaders David Cameron is likely to have the toughest time with his own party in the aftermath of this by-election. For a multitude of reasons, the Tories have leaked voters to UKIP since he has taken over as leader and the perception that the Prime Minister was somehow supporting Elwyn Watkins in this race is not going to help his difficult political balancing act. The Liberal Democrats and the right of his own party are getting increasingly agitated and it won't be easy to appease them both.
So in summary, you can't take anything away from Labour. They did what was expected and they have solid evidence they have at least begun the route to recovery. I'm sure their high command will not be getting too carried away as this result is much more to do with opposition to the Government than support for them, but just 8 months after a historic defeat proof they can still win elections will be welcomed. The Liberal Democrats will be disappointed but a victory would have been very impressive. Much will be made of the tactical votes from the Conservatives but I think this is easily overstated. The Lib Dems had a well know candidate and better organisation on the ground so the less ardent Tory voters were always likely to get squeezed. Labour supporters will do well to notice that 'the coalition' still received more votes than they did and tactical voting against them is a new election dynamic that will need to address. As for the Conservatives, Cameron has the unenviable task of keep the Tory right on side whilst simultaneously giving his coalition partners policy victories to champion. As John Curtice said on the BBC's election special, 'if the Liberal Democrat vote goes down and the Labour vote goes up, Conservative MPs will lose their seats'. This will be even more pronounced if the Tories are also leaking votes to minor parties to their right.
If you enjoyed this Parliamentary by-election then stand by for some more. The next one could be in Barnsley Central, Leicester South or Belfast West. Sadly, none of them will have the unique dynamics Oldham East & Saddleworth provided, but we will still cover them nonetheless. If you are new to the blog then you may not realise we cover Council by-elections, which take place across the country almost every week of the year. The were even two yesterday and analysis of Labour's shock gain in Cornwall and the Conservative hold in Norfolk will be up on Saturday morning.