Sunday, 16 January 2011

Old and Sad.....

The Oldham and Saddleworth by-election result has prompted quite a lot of speculation as to its deeper meaning. Who "won"? Who "lost"? And what are the long term implications?

Kevin MacGuire of the Labour-supporting Mirror suggests that we shouldn't get too excited, suggesting that it was "... a vote against the coalition, not for Labour...".
"... no one should get carried away – Oldham will change little of real substance in the short run...."
"...Boil the result down to its bare bones and – wow! Labour held a Labour ­constituency....".
 The Guardian takes a different tack.... it's trouble for the Tories according to this editorial. 

And what's more,
"...Lib Dem MPs are likely to sleep easier about their own prospects after this by-election, and this will lessen the pressure on Nick Clegg, who may feel more confident that his party can hold its own when the general election comes....".
I have to say that I do not agree with either of these analyses. Comparing the voting patterns with May 2010, the obvious lesson to be drawn is that, given the Conservatives obviously did not campaign very hard and that they more or less asked their voters to support the Lib Dems, then Tory Votes leached to the Lib Dem candidate, keeping the Lib Dem vote "up". It is also obvious that many disillusioned Lib Dem supporters moved to Labour, increasing Labour's share of the vote substantially over the general election. So the Lib Dem vote stayed constant, not from a solid Lib Dem performance, but from thousands of "loaned" Tory votes.

The crucial question then becomes: how will these voters behave the next time they are asked to vote?

It seems clear to me that, at a general election, the Tory voters who have been "loaned" to the Lib Dems will revert to their first preference, i.e. Conservative. It is not nearly as clear that those Lib Dems who moved to support Labour will be quite so keen to return to the Lib Dems. The outcome will be, IMO, that the Tory vote will increase, Labour's will stay (more or less) the same, or drop slightly, and the Lib Dems will lose out. I would not be surprised if the Lib Dems slipped to third at the next UK Parlimentary election in Oldham and Saddleworth.

Contrary to the Guardian's encouraging words for Nick Clegg, this is a pattern that is likely to be repeated across the country, as Lib Dem supporters from May 2010 who feel "betrayed" by Nick Clegg's conversion to the Tory neocon agenda, move (or move back) to Labour while Tory support remains at 2010 levels.

If, I was Nick Clegg I would not be as relaxed about this result as the Guardian's leader-writer.

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