This week, veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher passed away. The man’s politics was not my own, but he was clearly someone who felt passionately about his own positions and often wrote eloquently about them. This has obviously led the way to a by-election to take place in the Oldham West and Royton constituency at a date reasonably near into the future.
This is a safe Labour seat – by some ways as well – but it can be difficult to tell how much of a factor the sitting MP was when he’s been an MP for a very long time (Meacher held this seat and its predecessor, Oldham West, since 1970). In other words, take away incumbency and add the UKIP by-election touch and could this seat go purple?
For a start, Labour needs to understand that UKIP are the only other game in town and that they must focus all their time, energy and resource into beating them. Early signs indicate this is the case. Also, UKIP are yet to be tested post-May 7th, so this will be an interesting barometer of their current electoral situation. If the plan is to take northern seats, this will be a test of such a strategy.
My prediction is this: reasonably safe Labour hold. Not the almost 15,000 majority held now, but a win by several thousand votes is my bet. I think UKIP will have their attentions divided by the EU referendum for a start. Also, like I’ve said for a long time, in order to really make the northern plan work for them, I believe UKIP need to lose Farage. UKIP should obviously try and win, but be mindful of what they can learn for future such situations, and in particular pick up tips on how they can contest Labour held seats in the north. History tells us this is unlikely to happen, but if I were Labour, I wouldn’t be taking anything for granted.
Including holding onto this seat. I say Labour will almost certainly keep it, but a very good UKIP campaign combined with a very poor Labour one could see the purple people eaters (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) over the line. And if that happened, it would be a very bad first brush with the voting public for Jeremy Corbyn. Not even close to enough for serious discussion of a leadership contest to begin, of course, but disquieting it would be for him nonetheless.