So, it has been announced that Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has won the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Labour unsurpisingly seem quick to try to describe this as some great victory. It isn’t.
Labour would be very foolish to consider this by-election win as something they can be proud of. Let’s not forget the circumstances. The incumbent MP Phill Woolas won the general election by just 103 votes and in doing so had broken the law by lying about his nearest rival, Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins.
This is the same Phill Woolas which Ed Miliband decided was fit for a position as a shadow Home Office minister, even whilst Woolas waited for the judgement of the election court. Ed has defended this by saying that, “I think it’s right in this country that we practise the principle of people being innocent until they’re proven guilty”, but this is a poor excuse for Ed’s poor judgement. Ed shouldn’t need a court to find one of his MPs guilty of a criminal offence to be able to see that Woolas had crossed the line.
Another reason why Labour shouldn’t be proud about winning this election is that they are a party with no policies. The don’t offer an credible alternative to the Government. Actually, they do have one policy, that is to criticise anything the coalition do. That is even when they would have done it themselves or, as is the case with tuition fees, had colluded (again) with the Conservative party to keep the issue off the general election agenda.
The Oldham East and Saddleworth result isn’t an endorsement of Labour’s position, not least because they don’t really have one. It is simply a reflection of the tough measures which are necessary to address the problems the county is facing. A significant part of why Labour has won will simply be because they are the largest party not in government.
Another problem for Labour is that if we are to consider this a “referendum on the coalition” as some have described it, then the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth have shown Labour lost; more voted for the Lib Dems and the Tories combined than voted for Labour. Despite the doomsayers, the Lib Dem vote has held up well and the share of the vote actually went up.
The media shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from this result. Raising taxes and reducing public services are never going to be popular. The time to judge the coalition is in four years.