Why did Labour do so well in Oldham?

by Kevin Meagher

Well, no-one quite saw that coming. Labour’s better-than-expected win in Oldham West and Royton last night defied doom-mongers (myself included) who thought it would be a close-run thing.

In the end, Labour’s Jim McMahon romped home impressively, winning 62 per cent of the vote and a fulsome 10,722 majority.

Part of the reason lies with McMahon himself, the leader of the council and a working-class son of the town. The campaign played heavily on his local connections and credibility, pointedly avoiding Jeremy Corbyn and Westminster controversies.

The scale of the result highlights two abiding truisms for Labour.

First, the party’s ethnic support simply won’t touch UKIP and with the Conservatives and Lib Dems out of contention (despite the fact they ran the council a decade ago), it stays loyal. However, the same goes for many traditional White working-class voters too. Electoral traditional is engrained in places like Oldham.

Yes, many were flirting with UKIP, or agreed with them on issues like immigration, (a sentiment confirmed by Labour canvassers), but they didn’t make the switch in the numbers UKIP and many commentators thought they would.

That’s not to say there aren’t lots of disgruntled Labour voters in Oldham. There are, and many of the journalists predicting a tight result will have met many of them. But tribal loyalties run deep here.

Perhaps there was also something wrong with the tone of UKIP’s campaign. Northern working-class voters have a different temperament to the Southern English. (Perhaps they are less jingoistic?) This is a gut feel rather than anything empirical, but the sour tone of UKIP’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn probably didn’t chime with them.

The second truism, is that the Labour machine still knows how to run a by-election campaign. The effort here was massively strengthened because the North West regional office has a lot of experience campaigning in Oldham, accumulated over the past decade fending-off the BNP.

It knows how to run an effective postal vote effort and there was no shortage of volunteers making their way to the town. Veteran organisers like Andy Smith and Mike Amesbury, who know the place inside out, show the value and skill of the party’s organising staff.

So what did UKIP do wrong? First, they are clearly still struggling with the tradecraft, the skills needed to run effective campaigns. They can make noise and get noticed, but they aren’t converting this energy into actual votes. This is the story of the general election, when four million votes didn’t translate into seats won.

They also failed to set expectations that winning in an ethnically diverse seat like Oldham West was always a going to be a struggle. Also, they will have known about the number of postal votes that were issued for weeks, so why not make a play of it much earlier in the campaign if it was such a concern?

UKIP is still a threat to Labour in many other seats and it is foolish to write them off. They will continue to breathe down the party’s neck, even after this lacklustre performance. The collapse of the Conservatives and Lib Dem vote in so many seats makes that inevitable.

Labour won the Battle of Oldham decisively, but there will be many more to fight in the years to come.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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10 Responses to “Why did Labour do so well in Oldham?”

  1. TCO says:

    “It knows how to run an effective postal vote effort ”

    You can say that again.

  2. Carl says:

    So Labour won DESPITE Jeremy Corbyn?

    Why do I feel that if Labour lost you would have said it was BECAUSE of Corbyn?

  3. johnm55 says:

    Because if Labour had lost in Oldham, a seat we held with a 15,000 majority in May, the only explanation would have been Jeremy Corbyn

  4. Robert says:

    Of course, Carl is right. It is also true to say that McMahon was a very good candidate, while UKIP seemed to think that Oldham was in Essex (sorry Essex!). A good result for all parts of the Labour Party.

  5. Getthemout says:

    Labour’s victory, yesterday, was a knell of doom to the right-wing of the party. They wanted Labout to lose. Begin the expulsions and deselections NOW.

  6. Tafia says:

    What do you mean ‘no one saw it coming’.

    I beg to differ. The cretins that read the Guardian or listen to dicks in the PLP may not have seen it coming, but the pollsters did, the local party did, the local press did – and it came as no surprise at all to any of them.

    I used to live there, had a business there and still have many friends there. The result surprised errm…… exactly no-one bar possibly UKIP (and between you, me and these four walls it didn’t surprise the local UKIP group either – quite the opposite, privately they didn’t think they would do as well as they did).

    So long as a constituency has a high DE percentage (Labour’s home surely) Corbyn will do well.

    This might educate you better:-


  7. John P Reid says:

    Carl, if someone wins despite a leader who’s not as popular as the candidate and loses with the candidate being popular, but the leader not popular, then ,surely those reasons can be connected

  8. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Really sums up Atul and Kevin’s posts.

    Just maybe boys, Corbyn has taken away that perception that ‘they are all the same’. If that is the case then it would hurt UKIP who relies on the party true feeling about the Westminster parties. And yes immigration will be a problem for Labour without an honest policy on it, but then again none of the other leadership contenders were offering one either.

  9. Maybe we underestimated the good people of Oldham. Maybe they thought that UKIP driving round playing “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” near an area that had had race riots a while back was a little irresponsible.


  10. Peter Kenny says:

    As always there will be multiple explanations for the result in Oldham, that’s the nature if reality.

    So a good local candidate in a safe seat, well managed expectations and a good ground campaign – and a leader who did not harm those, despite UKIP making him a key issue and the Syria vote the night before.

    Obviously he’d have been blamed for a bad result so logically deserves some credit, along with all the other factors, for the good result.

    I have had the impression though that some people in the Party would actually have quite liked a bad result…

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