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 most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland