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  1. Politics
4 December 2015

Labour win Oldham West by-election with 11,000 majority

Party achieves better than expected victory as vote share rises to 62 per cent. 

By George Eaton

Labour has won the Oldham West and Royton by-election – and by a larger margin than almost anyone predicted. MPs returning from the seat warned that the party’s majority could fall into the low thousands from 14,738 in May. But this morning it stands at 10,722 on a turnout of 40 per cent (down from 60 per cent).

The party’s vote share actually rose to 62.1 per cent from 54.8 per cent, while second-placed Ukip’s increased by just 2.7 per cent to 23.4 per cent. (A Lib Dem source told me yesterday morning that Labour was “smashing it”.) It was a poor night for the Tories, who, despite their attempts at a northern revival, saw their vote shared reduced by 9.6 per cent. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, started the new parliament as they spent the last one by again losing their deposit. 

When the campaign began, Ukip hoped that it could run Labour close by turning the contest into a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn’s patriotism. MPs returning from the seat warned that their leader’s comments on shoot-to-kill and Isis terrorist Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”) were hurting the party on the doorstep and feared that their majority would be dramatically reduced. But even in favourable political circumstances, with national security issues to the fore, Ukip gained no traction. 

Corbyn supporters will argue that the result is proof of the benfits of an anti-austerity message and a rebuke to his parliamentary foes. But other sources attribute the scale of the party’s victory to the strength of their candidate Jim McMahon, the much-admired Oldham council leader, who had “crazy name recognition” in the words of one campaigner. They also emphasise their performance among Asian voters, who account for 26.5 per cent of the electorate and who shunned Ukip. While the Labour leader has more than passed his first electoral test, one shadow minister spoke of how “Corbyn’s office signed off leaflets and a campaign plan that deliberately sidelined him and national politics, and accentuated the local candidate. They know that Jim McMahon was electable because he was a great centrist candidate.” (McMahon voted for Liz Kendall in the leadership election.)

But it was the hope of Ukip and the fear of many in Labour that their candidate’s strengths would count for little as voters revolted against Corbyn. Tonight’s result has confounded those expectations. 

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Labour (Jim McMahon) – 17,209 – 62.1% (+7.3)

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Ukip (John Bickley) – 6,487 – 23.4% (+2.8)

Conservatives (James Daly) – 2,596 –  9.3% (-9.6)

Lib Dems (Jane Brophy) – 1,024 – 3.7% (N/C)

Greens (Simeon Hart) – 249 – 0.9% (-1.0)

Monster Raving Loony (Sir Oink A-Lot) – 141 – 0.51% (N/A)

Majority: 10,722 – 38.7% (+4.5) 

Following the result, McMahon said:

I am delighted to have been elected tonight. Michael Meacher was a close friend of mine and he was admired by people across the country as someone who worked tirelessly for the causes he believed in. I will do my best to live up to those high standards.

My sole focus has always been on what is best for Oldham, I want to make our town a better place for my sons to grow up in and make it somewhere they can be proud of, my priority will always be Oldham.

We also need to remember what is currently at stake under this Tory government. While everyone is looking the other way they are quietly pushing through cuts that will change the face of towns like Oldham.

The sooner we kick the Tories out and get a Labour government back in the better for all of us. The hard work starts now.

Corbyn said: 

I am delighted that Labour has not only won the Oldham West and Royton by-election – but increased our share of the vote since the general election in May.

Jim McMahon will make an excellent MP and a worthy successor to Michael Meacher, and I am looking forward to welcoming him to Labour’s team at Westminster.

Jim ran a great campaign, focusing on bringing jobs to Oldham and giving every child the best opportunities.

By-elections can be difficult for the party holding the seat, and turnouts are often low. But to increase our share of the vote since the General Election is a vote of confidence in our party.

It’s a clear demonstration that Labour is the party working people trust.

Our determination to oppose Tory austerity policies, and our successes in pushing them back on tax credit and police cuts show that Labour is getting results for working people.

With the Tories going nowhere in Oldham, UKIP has benefited from a protest vote. But this first electoral test in the new parliament has made clear Labour is the real alternative for Britain.


Now listen to George Eaton discuss the by-election with Stephen Bush and Caroline Crampton on this week’s New Statesman podcast…