A footsoldier’s letter home from Oldham and Saddleworth

by Dave Roberts

It had been nicknamed the Old & Sad by-election, but the truth is that the campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth was neither.

Like many Labour activists, I spent time last week on the streets of Oldham, knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and supporting our candidate. The weather was truly appalling, with relentless rain and persistent fog. During two hours at a rain sodden Moorside Cricket Club polling station early on Thursday morning, I was unable to see the cricket square for even a minute. I looked like a cold drowned rat.

But Oldham wasn’t just fog and rain. I experienced a meat “dinky” for lunch, enjoyed an incredible mega breakfast muffin from the Butty Box and had a fine shepherd’s pie by the fire in a pub shrouded in the ever present fog somewhere on the moors.

On the doorstep, I met voters desperate to cast their vote against the coalition, others who were angry at the re-run and wanted to show their anger by supporting Labour and even one who was organising a car pool to get his lazier mates to the polling station.

And, regardless of the weather, the campaign had a spark and an energy that was infectious. This was a by-election that Labour needed to win, and were determined to win and it was hard graft that was going to make that possible. Yet my time in the constituency also had a festive feel about it. Despite the angst and worry that things might not go quite according to plan, there was the pleasure of meeting up with comrades and friends from across the country. On the final Saturday it is said that over 400 activists were on the streets. All parts of the Labour party were represented – MPs, peers, union activists and grass roots members – and they had come from all corners of the UK.

On Wednesday afternoon I found myself knocking on doors with two colleagues, one of whom seemed to have an extra zip in his step and an added vigour to his door knock. Both colleagues were officers at Unison and it came to light that one had contested an election against the Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins while a student at the LSE, some 25 years ago. That election was won by a very narrow margin by my canvassing colleague. However, the tale goes that a young Mr Watkins didn’t appreciate his narrow defeat and contested the result, forcing a re-run a week later, an election he subsequently won. Now, 25 years on, Mr Watkins’ latest attempt to win an election on a re-run has met with abject failure and made one trade union officer very happy.

The Labour party machine cranked itself up for this by-election and successfully proved that it can still campaign and win. However, there is still a very long way to go until we are in a position to challenge at a general election. In Oldham & Saddleworth the message was clear and simple, the delivery of the message was well organised and the activists well motivated. To repeat this for another four years will require a huge effort. There are numerous elections to win in Wales and Scotland, for the European Parliament and at a local level. In addition, we have the challenge of the voting referendum and probable boundary changes.

Neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems are going to roll over and give up just because we won a good by-election. However, the first hurdle has been overcome and winning can become a habit. We should enjoy this moment before firmly fixing our eyes on the battles that lay ahead.

Dave Roberts is director, Morgan Roberts Ltd.

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One Response to “A footsoldier’s letter home from Oldham and Saddleworth”

  1. derek barker says:

    Whey Hey! Dave, reads like a novel! as i sat close to the cosy log fire, eating my shepherds pie, a load roar filled the air, the howling sent shivers down my spine, christ! i dont have a silver bullet? raced through Dave’s mind, blimey the hunger faded, as i lay my shephereds pie on the pub table, taking my knife and fork i made my way to the exit door, cutting through that oldham fog, i could barey see a outline of a figure, jeez! this is it, as the figure was clearly moving towards me, “FECK” as the accident fillined my boxer.

    Then there it was, starring me right in the face! good god Prescott! you scared the life out of me, whey hey Dave Prescott replied, what’s the pie like Dave.

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