Those most disappointed will be the leader's critics in his own partyby Peter Kellner / December 4, 2015 / Leave a comment
Nobody saw this coming. Labour has won the Oldham West and Royton by election, far more comfortably and on a higher turnout than anyone—at least, anyone at Westminster—expected. Jeremy Corbyn has every reason to be delighted. Some of the most downcast people today will be his Labour critics, who were hoping for a sufficiently bad result to prove their contention that Labour’s new leader is a vote loser.
Instead, we have a result which was broadly in line with most by-elections in the last parliament in northern Labour seats: an increase in Labour’s share of the vote, with Ukip coming a distant second. (I leave out the exceptional case of Bradford West, won in 2012 by George Galloway for Respect; it was completely sui generis.) So, why did this morning’s news come as such a surprise?
The main reason is that the obvious precedent was the by-election a year ago in next door Heywood and Middleton. There, exceptionally, Labour’s share of the vote stood still; Ukip won 39 per cent and reduced Labour’s majority to just 517. With Labour’s national support these days stalled, and Corbyn’s rating tanking, a repeat of the close Labour-Ukip contest seemed likely. Instead, Labour’s majority was 10,722, down from the 14, 738 bequeathed by Michael Michael Meacher but higher in percentage terms. (The turnout was down from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.)
One possible reason is that the victory had little to do with Corbyn, and was down to the local popularity of Jim McMahon, the new MP. He is the 35-year-old leader of Oldham council, a notable moderate whom some tip as a future leader of the party nationally. Maybe pro-McMahon voting swamped any anti-Corbyn voting.
If we had had another northern by-election, in which Labour fielded a left-wing pro-Corbyn candidate, we could put this to the test. But we don’t; and nor have there been any published opinion polls in Oldham that might help us to…