Does Cameron's Hollande snub matter?

A meeting between the PM and the French Socialist was in neither man's interests.

François Hollande, who remains the likely winner of the French presidential election, is in London today, where he will meet Ed Miliband (who will not be endorsing his policy of a 75 per cent top tax rate) but will not meet David Cameron.

The line from Downing Street is that it would be "unsual for the Prime Minister to meet the opposition candidate once an election campaign is underway". But Cameron has made no secret of his preference for Nicolas Sarkozy. He recently told Le Figaro:

He has done extraordinarily important things for France. It will be for the French people to decide, I do not have to interfere in this choice. Nicolas Sarkozy has my support. I say it clearly.

The standard view on the left and the right is that the Prime Minister, who will have to work with whoever wins, should not interfere in a foreign election. Tory MP Douglas Carswell, for instance, has criticised Cameron for "running our foreign policy like a scene from Love Actually with subtitles". But the Hollande camp is more relaxed, believing that Sarkozy's reliance on foreign leaders widens the gulf between him and his people. As Rafael wrote recently, there is no huge electoral advantage for a Socialist candidate to be seen "hobnobbing with the Tory leader". Cameron, meanwhile, who is anxious to reassure the Tories and the City of his pro-business credentials, has seized an opportunity to snub an "anti-capitalist".

And with Merkel openly cheering Sarkozy on, we may be seeing a pragmatic acceptance on both sides that socialists will support socialists and conservatives will support conservatives.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.