Even though there were hints in advance that we were going to do better than predicted by some, the result of the Oldham West by election was an exciting surprise to most of us. Not only had we been told that we might lose to UKIP, or that victory would be narrow but most definitely Jim McMahon could not be expected to match Michael Meacher’s excellent result in May; in the event he increased our share by 7%.
So it seems predictions of Labour’s imminent collapse may just be a little premature. Members and supporters from all sections of the party flocked in unity to Oldham to fight a very shrewd campaign, based on an outstanding local candidate, local issues of real concern to local people and organised around a growing cohort of campaigners.
Opponents and the media thought it might revolve around distorted drivel about the future of the monarchy and the armed forces and alleged past relationships with Ireland. They were wrong. It turns out, amazingly, that people in Oldham are much more concerned about housing, health jobs, welfare and the regeneration of their town, and saw Jim McMahon as a man who was already delivering.
We have got used to Jim McMahon through his regular briefings as Chair of the Labour Group in the Local Government Association. In the summer I attended the LGA Annual Conference as Labour delegate for Kent and attended a number of meetings chaired by Jim. I was very impressed by his enormous good sense, intelligence but also humility. I think he will become a major figure in the Parliamentary party and a powerful link with local government.
For UKIP, it was a disappointing result and they possibly fell into the trap of allowing their expectations to be overstated. In an ethnically diverse town, it was not so easy to trawl for their votes in their usual way and so they set out to smear the Labour leadership. They produced a fake leaflet that was intended to be taken as a Labour production, trying to reinforce the sort of Sun at its worst kind of stereotyping of Labour. There are three things wrong with this. They aren’t alone in trying dirty tricks in by elections but it doesn’t work when your opponents have the resources available to answer the smears. The nature of the stuff being pushed was so crude that it suggested a very low opinion of the electorate and in the end you can simply be too negative. The reality is that neither UKIP or the Tories can really speak for a community like Oldham.
The Lib Dems were also standing. Despite only getting 3% at the General Election, they produced a bar chart saying they were running second to Labour. This chart was based on their number of Councillors on the district Council, notwithstanding the fact that there are no Lib Dems in the Oldham West part of the district. They kept their 3%.
The campaign in Oldham was greatly enhanced by new members, especially young members. This is a great new resource and we hope to see this sort of active commitment all across the country.
Councillor Roger Truelove