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Friday, January 14, 2011 

A few things the Oldham East result tells us.

1. Phil Woolas would have won without trying to make the "white folk" angry

Despite increasing their share of the vote by 10.2%, Debbie Abrahams only won 532 more votes that Woolas did back in May last year. The Labour vote in the constituency is remarkably solid: those that stayed at home this time round were almost certainly made up for by a few defecting Liberal Democrats. While Woolas and his team's panic was understandable considering the performance of the Lib Dems in the opinion polls, he would have almost certainly won without resorting to smearing Elwyn Watkins.

2. Don't believe the opinion polls on the Liberal Democrats

Even taking into account the history of the Liberals in Oldham, for the party to increase their share of vote by 0.3%, albeit mainly due to the Tory collapse when they're between around 8% and 12% in the national polls is a brilliant result (although the local polls were about right). Much the same happened on election night: the polls that told us the party was catching up on Labour were utterly wrong. Whether the polls are weak on accurately gauging third party support or those taking part are giving fashionable answers only to change their minds when it comes down to it is worth trying to work out.

3. The only place the Tory vote can go is down

There are plenty of caveats when considering the huge drop in Conservative support, many being made by the party themselves: they hardly bothered campaigning, they wanted to shore up the Lib Dem vote, it was always going to be difficult in a northern seat with the cuts about to bite, their voters themselves didn't believe the party was even in a with a chance this time, etc. Truth is that even in 97 the Tories managed to get 10,000 votes, and over 7,000 in 01 and 05; 4,481, even for a by-election with a lower turnout is a shocking result. If a similar drop occurs in Barnsley Central and at the local elections in May, the party really should begin to worry.

4. The British National Party is in meltdown

When the BNP loses its deposit in a by-election where it centred its entire campaign around "Muslim paedophiles grooming white girls" and its candidate was treated in the usual counter-productive fashion by his political opponents, the party really is in trouble. Add in how Labour didn't dare repeat Woolas's playing of the race card, as well as how well the BNP have performed in the constituency since the 2001 riots, and it suggests the party's rise has been firmly checked, at least for the moment.

5. Spending vast amounts of money and taking the moral high ground doesn't win you elections

You almost have to feel sorry for Elwyn Watkins, although he must have had an inkling that proving his opponent was a liar was hardly going to automatically win him the seat. As it is, he can at least be proud of his performance and for taking out one of the most vile, shameless and opportunistic Labour politicians of the past decade, even if not at the ballot box. Was it worth however much Watkins himself sank into the two campaigns though?

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