A majority of less than 4,000 would be terrible news for the Labour leaderby Peter Kellner / November 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
As I have nothing to say about the dreadful events in Paris that isn’t obvious, pointless or self-indulgent, I shall follow the wisest advice from the weekend: that we democrats should carry on as normal. So, for those who wish to turn with relief to the thankfully non-lethal contest for votes here at home, here are some thoughts on an election that might add a further twist to a surprising year for British politics.
In normal circumstances the coming by-election in Oldham West and Royton would be of little consequence. It is one of Labour’s safest seats. In May Michael Meacher, whose recent death has caused the by-election, had a majority of almost 15,000. We would expect turnout to fall sharply in next month’s vote, and Labour to retain the seat with a sharply reduced majority, of 5,000 or so. Within days, even hours, the contest would be forgotten.
If that is what happens, Jeremy Corbyn will be delighted. He will be able to say that he is not, as his critics claim, toxic with large numbers of Labour’s supporters—or, at any rate, not yet. Doubtless his claim will be challenged. Labour’s candidate, Jim McMahon, is about as perfect an anti-Corbyn flag-carrier as you could hope to find. He is ideologically moderate, an enterprising leader of Oldham’s council and, for those who value personal back-stories, the working-class son of a truck driver. Would a clear victory represent a vote of confidence for the centrist candidate, or his left-wing party leader?
I reckon McMahon’s personal virtues are worth, say, 1,000-2,000 votes, but not much more. It is rare for the individual qualities or defects of a main-party candidate to matter more than that, unless they are subject to nasty, well-targeted vilification. A 5,000-plus majority would be hard to represent as anything other than good news for Corbyn.
But, by the…