What does the Oldham result mean for the coalition?

The Lib Dems hang on to their share of the vote – but at the cost of their coalition partner.

Yesterday's by-election was a strong win for Labour – that much is obvious. Debbie Abrahams's share of the vote was not only up 10 points since the general election, it was also a bigger majority than Phil Woolas gained in 1997. But what does it mean for the coalition parties, whose joint share of the vote dropped from 58 per cent in May to just 44.7?

The shadow foreign secretary, Yvette Cooper, told the Today programme that it represented a "verdict" on the coalition: "[People] feel worried about their jobs; they feel very angry about VAT."

She may have a point. Sunder Katwala notes that the swing from the joint Lib Dem/Conservatives to Labour was 11.8 per cent, similar to that shown in current opinion polls.

Indeed, it was the senior coalition partner that really took a hammering, finishing with 10 per cent less of the vote than it secured in May. The Conservative Party chairman, Sayeeda Warsi, tried to minimise this. "First of all, the turnout was low," she said. "Secondly, this is a by-election, and thirdly we started this by-election in third place."

It is true that the Tories have not held this seat since 1995 – but the lacklustre campaign (during which David Cameron got the name of the Conservative candidate wrong) will have done nothing to help. While the matter is not enough in itself to cause a rebellion from the Tory right, it will certainly fuel discontent.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg has been quick to declare that the result will "confound" critics by showing that the Liberal Democrats remain a "strong, united, independent party". Indeed, although the Lib Dems lost by more than 3,500 votes (compared to just 103 last May), the fact that they did not face annihilation, as widely expected, will mean that it feels like a victory for them.

Over at the Guardian, Andrew Sparrow suggests that this result "show[s] that, with a strong local candidate, the party can hold its vote". I'm not convinced. The circumstances in this by-election were exceptional, given the conspicuously half-hearted campaign fought by the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems certainly benefited from Tory losses, something that is unlikely to be replicated at the next general election. According to a Populus poll of the constituency, 34 per cent of Tory voters said they would switch to the Lib Dems, while Mike Smithson estimates that about two-thirds of their votes went to the party. Apart from anything else, the Lib Dems will be hard-pushed to retain a strong and independent identity over the course of four years.

We must be wary of drawing too many conclusions from a single by-election. Overall, it is very positive for Labour. Not only are there signs of a swing towards them, but a spotlight has been cast on the difficulties that will face the two coalition parties come the general election.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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