From a victory of just 103 votes at the May general election Labour’s Debbie Abrahams won the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election last night with a more comfortable majority of 3,558 and 42% share of the vote.
Abrahams said the win sent a clear message to the coalition and while we can’t read too much into the first by-election of this parliament what is interesting here is that while the Liberal Democrat vote appears to have held, even rising fractionally, to 32% the Conservatives’ vote fell by more than 7,000 as the party came a distant third.
Overall Labour polled 14,718 votes with the Lib Dems on 11,160 and the Tories on 4,481. Okay it is, as pointed out in the comments, depressing to see so many vote Lib Dem, but the voting suggests that David Cameron’s decision not to fight too hard for this seat and support his coalition partner, Nick Clegg, has paid off. And so the Lib Dem vote is possibly much weaker than the Oldham numbers really show.
The softer Tory vote appear to have switched seamlessly from the Tories to the Lib Dems with relative ease. The Tory vote fell from 26% at the general election to 14%.
The result is good news for Ed Miliband who has been campaigning on bankers bonuses, the cuts and tuition fees. Miliband said it was a “wake-up call” for the coalition.
Nick Clegg said he was pleased with the Lib Dems’ performance. I’m sure he was as he wrote his thank you note to Cameron.
Andy Burnham, shadow education secretary, said: “It’s a good win for Ed Miliband and Labour but we are not getting carried away. We have made a very strong and confident start but there is a long way to go. Mr Cameron will be very worried when he sees these figures. There is real concern about the direction of travel of this Tory-led government. This is a wake-up call for David Cameron and Nick Clegg.”
Miliband needs to take this win and go on the offensive. The public really don’t know him and they don’t know his Labour Party or what it stands for. His personal ratings are still not exactly sparking and that means he must not wait around for the coalition to sink as the FT rightly says today.
“Winning back this reputation will mean more than ephemeral by-election gains. Opinion poll leads might cheer supporters but they don’t win elections. The only thing which can do that is restoring Labour’s reputation for economic competence.
“Here Mr Miliband cannot simply wait for the government’s reputation to sink – particularly as the economic picture in four years’ time may be very different from today. Instead he must embark on a repair job as radical and far-reaching as that which occurred in the mid-1990s.”
Labour needs to start making its voice heard. A lot of people are yet to really hear Miliband who has a golden opportunity to take the party forward and rebuild it.