>If you’d listened to the media in recent weeks, you’d have thought that the Liberal Democrats were in for a real routing in Oldham, barely reaching double figures. Conventional wisdom said that meltdown was inevitable, and our defeat would be followed by a challenge to Nick Clegg and ultimately the coalition would fall.
Well, what a load of nonsense those predictions turned out to be. The result last night had us with a slightly higher proportion of the vote than we had in May, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to see Elwyn Watkins elected MP.
The result in full was:
- Labour: 14,718 (42.1%)
- Lib Dems: 11,160 (31.9%)
- Conservatives: 4,481 (12.8%)
- UKIP: 2,029 (5.8%)
- BNP: 1,560 (4.5%)
- Green Party: 530 (1.5%)
- Monster Raving Loony Party: 145 (0.4%)
- English Democrats: 144 (0.4%)
- Pirate Party: 96 (0.2%)
- Bus Pass Elvis Party: 67 (0.1%)
Labour haven’t got much to shout about – they held their own seat at a time when they’re opposing a Government which is having to do some fairly harsh things, after all the tuition fees stuff and the VAT increase. Even then, their new MP was elected on less than half the vote, and less than the combined total of the Coalition parties. They will be very worried indeed at the extent of the tactical voting against them which took place where they were in a position of strength.
The Tories were always likely to get squeezed. It doesn’t always happen to the third party – for example, the story of the night 5 years ago in Livingston was that our 3rd place vote pretty much held up for candidate Charles Dundas – but on this occasion, they were. I suspect they’ll consider the result pretty much as expected.
The Liberal Democrat result confounded the pundits who had sagely warned of our demise. It seems that the picture is a lot less bleak than political journalists paint it. Who would have predicted that our share of the vote would have increased, albeit by a tiny amount, from May? I do feel really heartbroken for Elwyn and his energetic team who couldn’t have put any more effort into it and I really wanted him to win, but they can be very proud of what they achieved against a narrative which said we were stuffed. I do wonder, though, whether we were a bit too cautious in calling the election so quickly. If the result had been really bad, it could have been blamed on a brief campaign in the harshest of Winters. All the signs were that we were the ones with the momentum. I think in another week or two, we might have pulled it off. We’ll never know – and you can’t blame the powers that be for being risk averse – but in future, let’s see them reach high rather than try to limit damage. The time for timidity is over.
The Oldham result tells us is that we can afford to be more ambitious, and more upbeat. All the reports I hear on the ground suggest that our vote is holding up well. There’s probably nobody whose knocked on more doors in Scotland than Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrat candidate in Edinburgh Central. He’s been bold and upbeat right since his selection in July and it’s paying dividends as his team recruits loads of enthusiastic activists. He and his team have been out there in the most freezing of temperatures, no matter how much snow and ice has been around. They are finding that their intensive effort is paying dividends already. Hopefully in May, he’ll be in Holyrood as MSP.
One final thing – I wish the BNP had come last. I’d much rather have seen the Bus Pass Elvis Party
beat them. At least they hate filled racists lost their deposits in an election where there was a danger their vote could have increased. It just goes to show that a hard fought campaign, which properly engages with people, can push them down.