Let’s not kid ourselves. Labour won in Oldham despite Jeremy Corbyn

by Atul Hatwal

By any measure, Labour passed the Oldham West test last night. Almost an 11,000 majority, an increased share of the vote and an increased percentage lead. Job done.

So does this mean Jeremy Corbyn is in fact electorally viable?

Of course not.

Here are three takeaways from the result.

1.Politics is local if you’ve got a local candidate

Jim McMahon was a very good candidate made exceptional because of his local roots.

Often candidates will strain to demonstrate a local connection.

Having spent a couple of years at college in the town several decades earlier, lived nearby for a bit, once stopped at the motorway services – any link is seized upon to claim local authenticity and disguise the reality that the candidate actually works in London, in politics, as a party adviser, union official or lobbyist.

In contrast, Jim McMahon was the real deal.

His name recognition on the doorstep was off the charts. Through his work as leader of the council and daily family life in the town, he personally knew hundreds of voters and thousands knew someone who knew him.

The word back from canvassers was that whatever voters’ thought of Jeremy Corbyn – usually not a lot – Jim McMahon was uniformly well regarded.

Labour’s campaign was distinguished as being a Corbyn-free zone. One appearance at the start and one picture hidden on the back of a leaflet does not tell a tale of local Labour faith in the leader.

This was Jim McMahon’s win.

2.Oldham West and Royton should never have been under threat

At the general election, Labour won Oldham West and Royton with a majority of almost 15,000. Self-evidently it’s one of Labour’s safest seats.

Since May, the Tories have been in turmoil over tax credits, are split from top to bottom over Europe and are in the early stages of a leadership civil war.

That a Labour victory should even have been doubted is illustrative of the disaster which has befallen the party.

If Oldham West and Royton was to be lost in a national poll, on a uniform swing, Labour would be reduced to 60 seats.

Think about that for a moment. 60 seats.

Retaining a rock solid, heartland Labour seat, at a time when there is an incompetent and divided Tory government, now counts as a success for Labour.

This isn’t the state of an opposition on its way into government, rather it’s indicative of party that is hovering between political life and death.

3.Ukip is finished

If this by-election had been a year earlier it might have been a lot closer.

Just 12 months ago Ukip were on the march. Wall to wall publicity, Tory defections and chippy Nigel Farage constantly on hand for a pint and a quote.

How times change.

The general election burst Ukip’s bubble.

The reality for a small, outsider party is that they are either a surging existential threat to the established order or an ebbing irrelevance.

Their lack of a parliamentary corps robs them of media presence in the debate, so their fortunes are ephemeral.

Ukip are now the political equivalent of the Bay City Rollers (under forties, go google them).

With a rapidly fading political pop sensation providing the main alternative to favoured local son Jim McMahon, Labour’s status quo prevailed.

The reality is that Oldham West and Royton does not change a thing about the fundamentals which determine how general elections are won and lost.

For almost five years, starting in late 2010, Uncut was clear that Ed Miliband was going to lose the general election unless he addressed weaknesses on leadership and the economy.

Despite the talk of new paradigms and new politics, regardless of the headline polls and Twitter, on May 7th Labour lost because of weaknesses on leadership and the economy.

Since then, nothing has happened to change the laws of electoral gravity.

If anything, the party is now weighed down all the more because a third criteria is in play in voters’ deliberations: national security.

We can be outraged at David Cameron’s talk of Labour being a party with terrorist sympathisers, but when the shadow chancellor is on record laughing at the IRA’s attempt to assassinate the entire British government and when Labour’s leader calls terrorists “friends,” we can’t be surprised that this becomes a live political issue.

The story from the polls on what the voters’ think of Labour on leadership, the economy and national security is crystal clear: we’re 25 to 30 points behind on each issue. An unprecedented deficit.

Oldham West and Royton will give Jeremy Corbyn a temporary respite for a few hours in the news cycle. But that’s all it will be because he didn’t earn this win, the candidate did.

Labour did not address any of our negatives that will hurt us in 2020. Instead the approach in Oldham was to dance around difficult questions and focus exclusively on Jim McMahon’s personal qualities.

As a short-term tactic, it’s fine for this by-election. But it’s no substitute for an actual political strategy.

Unless Labour works out a strategy to shift public opinion on the issues that will drive voters’ decision-making at the general election, the party’s political trajectory will remain unaltered. More by-elections will potentially be won in the coming years, for the same reasons as Oldham West and Royton, but let’s be under no illusions, Labour’s current direction of travel only ends in one destination: a shattering national defeat in 2020.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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25 Responses to “Let’s not kid ourselves. Labour won in Oldham despite Jeremy Corbyn”

  1. Excellent article and 100% correct
    Corbyn will have to replaced within a year or it is goodbye vienna

  2. Isn’t it a case of ?

    “Since May, the Tories have been in turmoil over tax credits, are split from top to bottom over Europe and are in the early stages of a leadership civil war.”


    “Since May, Labour has been in turmoil over about pretty much everything except tax credits, and is , at least in the Party if not the PLP, split from top to bottom over Europe and is in the early to middle stages of a leadership civil war.”

    So its not really a case of “that a Labour victory should even have been doubted” . Its more case of its not being surprising that there was a certain worry that Labour might lose its voteshare.

    But that hasn’t happened. So, congratulations to Jim McMahon and congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and everyone else who worked so hard for a superb election result.

  3. Robert says:

    I assume that the voters in Oldham know that Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party and it did not stop them increasing Labour’s share of the vote. I suspect that Corbyn and McMahon between them managed to appeal to most parts of the Labour coalition. This result does not change my opinion that Labour is not going to get a majority in 2020 but an increased share of vote might not be put of the question.

  4. Getthemout says:

    That Corbyn victory was a nightmare scenario come true for you, wasn’t it?! Yes it was!

  5. Tafia says:

    Atul, it may have escaped your somewhat limited attention but far far bigger and more succesful politicians from both sides of the House say ‘Politics is always local’.

    And always remeber Atul, who is it that wants to devolve all power over selection of candidates to local CLPs without central interference? Oh, it’s the Corbynistas.

  6. Josh says:

    ukip was never going to be a serious force. The tories should never have got scared of them in the first place.

    But we’ve been told a lot by the media over the last few weeks that it’ll be a close contest and ukip would mount a serious challenge. None of that happened.

    I think for once the media and the detractors should be asking a serious question that why did they get it so wrong. What’s the reason(s) – pre-conceived bias? Divorce from reality, being in a metropolitan bubble? Or both of them.

  7. Like the boy who cried ‘wolf’, Atul’s dishonesty is placing him in a position where the reader no longer looks for the truth in his writing. UKIP fought this election on the personality of Corbyn. If, as Atul and his friends state, Corbyn has made Labour unelectable then we should have seen the decrease in Labour voter share that so many were predicting. We didn’t see it.

    The experts were predicting that Jim McMahon could bring in an extra 2,000 votes or thereabouts. The rest of Labour vote would be on national issues. The feeling seemed to be that a reduced Labour majority of about 5,000 was the best that could be hoped for.

    Now of course Atul has form on predicting Corbyn electoral failure. I guess he has decided if he says it often enough it will come true. It’s a bit like how they used to describe Vince Cable as having predicted 5 of the last 2 recessions.

    Wolf! Wolf! Isn’t it Atul?

  8. Mike Stallard says:

    Excellent observations!
    A lot of the trouble is that the London Parties are playing games with the electorate. The Conservatives did not bother about Oldham because they did not regard it as winnable. Damn the local candidate! Damn the local supporters! The money comes from people who want results!
    The local candidate here was human and well known. So the untermenschen who voted voted for him.

    Ukip were the real losers.

    PS Why were there no less than 7,000 postal votes? Why has the number of national postal votes gone up from just under a million to nearly 6 million since 1997? I think this is an abuse which has to be nipped smartly in the bud. Don’t you? Postal voting was for people on active service, people in hospital and people who were housebound. Abusing the system is like parking in a disabled space: small and mean.

  9. Ryland1 says:

    Come on, If Oldham was under threat it was because sites like this telling people that Corbyn was unelectable etc and giving ammunition to our enemies.

  10. paul barker says:

    All true but we can add a 4th point : Corbyn is safe. If there ever was any chance of a Coup, its gone now.
    There are going to be 2 factors affecting Labours vote share over the next couple of years : a slow contraction as voters notice how the Party has changed; & a slow expansion which happens in every Parliament as we move towards midterm. We have to remember that 3 years ago Labour had typical leads of more than 10% which didnt stop you being 7% behind last May. Its quite possible that Labours vote may increase over the next 2 or 3 years, you may even get small leads over the Tories. Labour will still be set for disaster in 2020 how are you going to convince the membership of that ?
    The Lefts grip on Labour can only get stronger at all levels.

  11. leslie48 says:

    The idea that winning a very safe Labour seat – in a Northern by election mixed ethnic poorer community with a highly known councillor , moderate Labour candidate – indicates overwhelming support for JC is very problematic. He remains deeply unpopular as the Leader of our party and with the voters at large and the exit of experienced Labour members many of whom give generously to the party is now highly concerning. What most worries me is the content of some of the stop war site where there is almost a sympathetic tone towards the enemy.

  12. 07052015 says:

    Dont write ukip off just yet -EU referendum will do for them one way or the other.

  13. Fred says:

    Labour MUST Split. The sooner the divorce comes the better, Blairites are far more aligned with the fib dems than Cobynista’s. The faster it comes the better.

    We hate them and they hate us simples.

  14. James Martin says:

    Oh Atul, it just doesn’t get any better for you does it lad? First you find out that only 4.5% of the membership actually support your right-wing Blairite views in the Party, and now you find out that we can win elections with Jeremy as leader, although I have absolutely no doubt that had it have been close, or worse, that it would all have been Jeremy’s fault wouldn’t it? You’re good for a laugh if nothing else.

  15. How about changing the title to what you really mean?

    “Let’s kid ourselves. Labour won in Oldham despite Jeremy Corbyn”.

    I believe football supporters play similar psychological games when their team is doing badly. They’ll blame just about anyone, usually the ref, for their troubles.

    When things get really bad someone will shout “let’s pretend we scored a goal” and there’ll be wild cheering and clapping. Just so that everyone can remember what that all felt like!

  16. John P Reid says:

    Daniel Speight, thing with the boy who cried wolf, was in the end a wolf did turn up

  17. Ian says:

    Rather complacent on Atul’s part, for the fourth item in his should have been “absence of any protest”. Had there been such opposition and despair at Corbyn’s leadership among the so-called ‘traditional labour voters’ then there would have been a protest, regardless of the candidate and other local factors.

  18. TC says:

    Oh dear Atul, by the look of it the only one kidding themselves here is you.

  19. paul barker says:

    A week may be along time in Westminster politics but opinions out in the ordinary world move very slowly. Most voters are barely aware of Corbyn yet, for them Labour is the Party that stood in May, not the very different Party emerging now.
    Labour will get some sort of boost midterm, oppositions always do. The position of the Left within Labour can only get stronger. The Right/Centre can either jump or wait a few years & be pushed.

  20. Hodges says:

    This article reads like it was written by Dan Hodges. In fact, has anyone ever seen Atul and Dan in the same room?……

  21. John P Reid says:

    Hodges,I. Have westinister tube station, about 4 weeks,ago

  22. John P Reid, you are quite right.

    …thing with the boy who cried wolf, was in the end a wolf did turn up

    So the problem is that when Atul does get over the mental aberrations he seems to be going through, we may not realize it and ignore what he has to say.

  23. John P Reid says:

    And by which time,it’ll be to late and the Labour Party will be destroyed

  24. TNL says:

    “Retaining a rock solid, heartland Labour seat, at a time when there is an incompetent and divided Tory government, now counts as a success for Labour.”

    Which is at the heart of Labour’s problems at the moment. If keeping this seat is some sort of endorsement of Corbyn, then the parameters for success have been set really low and nowhere near the level needed for the Labour party to form a government in 2020.

  25. clare sawdon-smith says:

    The seat never was under threat… so point 2 is completely invalid. The narrative that it was under threat was created by ‘senior Labour sources’ hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy. As for whether or not Oldham can be considered any kind of achievement I would point out that for a party to increase its vote share in a by-election by this amount is almost unprecedented. You have to go back 18 years to find a similar situation.

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