The former leader of Oldham Council, Jim McMahon (OBE) has successfully defended the traditionally safe Labour seat of Oldham West & Royton, in what was expected to be a close by-election.
Far from being a narrow victory, Labour secured 62% of the vote with just short of an 11,000 majority, increasing their vote share 7.5% while only dropping 4,000 from their majority from the General Election. Overall turnout in the by-election was 40%, down from 60% in May.
Jeremy Corbyn has hailed the victory as a vote of confidence in his party and in part his leadership. The by-election, triggered by the death of veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher, was the first electoral test for Jeremy Corbyn and his new politics. However, one distinguishing feature of the campaign was the distinct lack of the party leader, both on leaflets and at campaign events in the constituency.
In what might be seen as a rather shrewd campaign move, the Labour leader chose to lay low, only visiting the constituency in the final days of the campaign. Instead, Labours candidate chose to run a hyper-local campaign, focusing on his track record and tackling local issues. By not being at the centre of the campaign, Corbyn prevented the by-election becoming a referendum on his leadership.
UKIP candidate John Bickley… has now failed to win in 3 different by-elections in the last 2 years
Nigel Farage’s party had hoped to capitalise on Corbyn’s controversy and the turmoil in the Labour party, in order to secure their first victory against Labour in the north. However, UKIP were left in a distant second place with 23% of the vote, only managing to increase their vote share by 3%. This was a disappointing result for UKIP candidate John Bickley, who has now failed to win in 3 different by-elections in the last 2 years.
Farage objected to the result and has voiced concerns around the use of postal votes in the by-election, claiming that individuals had handed in ‘bundles of postal votes’ on polling day. He has also suggested that ‘ethnic voting’ had played a role in determining the result of the by-election. The returning officer and local police have both said no official complaints have been received.
Other results from the by-election include relatively consistent results for the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party in fourth and fifth place. The Conservatives suffered a drop in support losing nearly 10% of the vote share and dropping 5,500 votes compared to May’s result.
Though the Labour leadership may be keen to capitalise on such a result, it most likely has had little to do with the draw of Corbyn
The strong by-election victory will be welcomed as a rare piece of good news for the Labour party and for Jeremy Corbyn following a difficult few weeks. Though the Labour leadership may be keen to capitalise on such a result, it most likely has had little to do with the draw of Corbyn. Instead, Labour’s success is likely down to a strong candidate and extensive local campaigning. UKIP’s failure to even come close to winning appears to say rather more about the failure of their campaign and the current state of their party.