Oldham East and Saddleworth

A case of premature congratulation

“The voters have spoken for the country” said newly elected MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth Debbie Abrahams a little before 2am this morning. “Across the country there is growing anger against your reckless policies, your broken promises and your unfair cuts. You are making the wrong judgements for the long-term of our country” she continued.

Lets just hang on a minute. The claim was made that this was “better than Labour did during the 1997 landslide”. In one sense this is true, in 1997 Labour got 41.7% of the vote, yesterday this was up to 42.1%. The majority, 3,389 in 1997, was also up yesterday to 3,558.

And yet Ms Abrahams won 14,718 votes yesterday. This is an increase of 532 from May 2010. It is 7,828 votes less than Labour won in the constituency in 1997. Not an incredible result given Ed Miliband’s three visits to the constituency.

Ed Miliband still tried to claim that drumming up 532 extra voters in three visits had sent a message to the coalition to “think again on VAT, think again on the trebling of tuition fees, think again on the police cuts that are going to affect their communities” but the fact is that the combined Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote was 15,641.

The real interest lies not with Labour holding onto a seat it already held with a few hundred extra votes, but in the other party’s results.

Despite opinion poll ratings in the single figures the Lib Dems scored a fairly respectable 11,160 (31.9% of the vote). The Conservative vote, on the other hand, fell from 11,773 to just 4,481.

The answer to the question ‘where did those Conservative voters go?’ is crucial to answering the question of who can take most comfort from this result and what does it signal for the long term. Given that the Labour vote, in terms of actual numbers, barely budged, there are two possibilities;

1 – The Conservative voters from May 2010 stayed at home. This is worrying for the Conservatives and encouraging for the Lib Dems as it means their voters, largely, stayed faithful.

2 – The Conservatives switched to the Lib Dems. This was floated as a possibilty by the Lib Dems candidate himself. But this is worrying for the Lib Dems. With a fall in their vote it means that Conservative voters switching to them were simply making up for the voters deserting them. If this is the case these are the sorts of voters who will switch back to the Conservatives in a general election.

Which of these two scenarios is more likely? If Lib Dems from May 2010 deserted they must have stayed at home given Labours static vote or Labour voters from May 2010 may have stayed at home and been replaced by Lib Dems. This seems unlikely. Scenario 1 is more likiely, the Conservative vote collapsing. Given his half hearted campaign this might not be surprising but there is a limit to how long he can sacrifice the Conservative Party for the coalition.

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