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Lessons from Oldham for the 4.5%ers

Oldham byelectionThere has been little so entertaining this week as reading the bemused response to the Oldham by-election result in the mainstream media. All those ‘Corbyn must go’ stories had to binned and a whole raft of explanations dreamt up to explain why it didn’t go to script.

Just for the record, Labour’s candidate Jim McMahon secured a 10,722-vote majority over UKIP’s John Bickley, and a 62% vote share that was higher than at the general election. Yes, that’s right, a 7.5% increase in the share of the vote.

Of course Labour had a good local candidate, as we should, and of course the campaign played to those strengths. However, this victory was on the back of a well funded UKIP campaign that talked about little else than Jeremy Corbyn – during a week when he was being vilified for his stance on bombing Syria. A campaign that played to some stereotypes about white working class voters, which I thought were very effectively dealt with in this article by Harris Beider.

On Friday morning I came very close to cancelling my Guardian membership. This fine newspaper’s news coverage of Jeremy since his leadership victory has been very poor, sometimes almost as bad as the Tory tabloids. But its news piece on the result was a new low – nothing positive about Jeremy, it was all down to other factors. It showed all the signs of the panic rewrite I mentioned above.

I was also opposed to the decision to bomb Syria. I wouldn’t have explained my reasons in quite the same way as Jeremy because I have no problem in principle with military action. I just don’t think it would work and Cameron’s case for war is very weak, not least his fanciful 75,000 ground troops claim. I accept that we do on occasion have to meet evil with force as our socialist forefathers did in the Spanish Civil War. But even so, I thought Hilary Benn’s attempt to claim this is a war against fascism, was very weak.

Sadly, I had to turn to the Daily Mail for a credible analysis, one that I suspect played equally strongly with the voters of Oldham. Peter Oborne, no fan of Jeremy’s, said:

Whether or not you like Mr Corbyn (and I profoundly disagree with many of his policies), there is no denying that he emerged from the arguments over Syria as a man of moral courage, integrity and principle. Indeed, how interesting that after months of denigrating Corbyn, the Blairite tendency — together with those excitable inhabitants of the Westminster bubble — have been made to look silly in their prediction that Labour would lose the Oldham by-election. In the real world, it seems the voters have more time for the Labour leader than the metropolitan commentariat.

The ‘Blairite Tendency’, as Oborne puts it, can be guaranteed to pop up whenever a rent a quote is required to attack the Labour Leader. Even some of those who lost their seats in the General Election, show little sign of any humility or taking responsibility for their contribution to that defeat. I rather enjoyed this blogger’s theory that certain members of the PLP have narcissist tendencies.

Yesterday we had Carolyn Flint attacking Momentum in the Independent. Sorry, but I must have missed her criticism of Progress – a real party within a party, with minimal internal democracy and millionaire funding. Jeremy has rightly condemned abuse, but not all the stories turned out to be true, such as the mythical protest outside Stella Creasy’s house. What actually happened is explained in this post at Left Futures.

And for those MPs who think they can launch a coup in the summer, Tom Quinn’sexplanation of the party mechanics should be required reading. As I have frequently pointed out, the Labour Party rules are poorly drafted, but it is hard to find fault with this interpretation on Labour List.

That’s not to say I am uncritical of Jeremy’s leadership. In particular, some of the messaging has been ill disciplined. The conversational style is fine in small groups, but addressing the mass media requires clear lines that are tested carefully so that they are less easily misinterpreted.

At least in Scotland we have a leadership that has recognised the benefits of a different approach to politics. Kez Dugdale wears her ideology light and is by no means a natural supporter of Jeremy’s. None the less, her measured, team building approach has accommodated the change rather than confronting it. Today’s interview in the Guardian is an honest reflection on her own and Scottish Labour’s position that I think most people will respect.

So, it may be wishful thinking, but let’s at least hope that the Oldham result will give those narcissistic MPs some food for thought. Time for a bit more campaigning with the party than against it. I can but wish!

This article first appeared at Dave’s own blog


  1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    The fundamental facts are that Neo-Liberal Labour(Blair, Brown, Ed Miliband.) ARE NOT LABOUR.

    That is why it is futile to expect them; Leopard spots analogy, to be anything other than what they really are. I personally and might add ‘politely’ challenged Angela Eagle over her Neo-Liberal economic stance, and her retort was that she understood the macroeconomics of money printing, i.e. the Banks Print money out of thin air every time they make a loan, but Instead of offering me an explanation for her position, she backed away and turned towards other more fruitful prospective voters.

    My immediate feelings at that time were, that she did not have the conviction necessary to defend her position, in effect knowing that her position was untenable, all pure anecdote but relevant to the kind of people we are dealing with.

    They know that if you scratch the surface of their so called beliefs, that underneath lies a career politician who’s integrity depends on their final ambitions. They think Spin has worked for Blair and is working for Cameron and that in the end we are too stupid to see through it.

  2. Robert says:

    Well of course spin has worked well for many hundreds of years in one form or another, with labour it was the idea that they were for the working class, Under Blair that was changed to those that worked and the Tories now use it.

    We will see which form of spin wins the next election..

  3. Sue says:

    Well done Labour. Such a brilliant result! And against a background of Corbyn being continually and shamefully monstered in the press and on the TV. Despite that Labours vote share went up. That has to say something re what people are long for.

    1. Rod says:

      Well said, Sue.

      In my view people are longing for an alternative to the Westminster elite.

      What struck me most about the response to the bomb Syria vote was how the media were promoting Benn as a credible leader of the opposition.

      Odd isn’t it, the mainstream media believe Labour can only achieve credibility with a leader who backs the Tories!

  4. David Ellis says:

    Five things Corbyn should do now:

    Forget Momentum – who are these people?

    Denounce StWC – they oppose Western bombing but support Assadist genocide and Russian bombing all in the name of fighting `fascism’.

    Reshuffle the shadow cabinet – get rid of the warmongers and give the party the green light to de-select New Labour MPs and candidates.

    Establish a labour movement campaign for LEAVE to fight Cameron’s referendum and for a socialist Europe – without this his anti-austerity narrative will quickly melt away.

    Put some meat on the anti-austerity bones – we need a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism. Anti-austerity is not enough.

    1. gerry says:

      In order;
      Point 1 – yes, but give this group a little more time to be an effective grassroots anti- neoliberal campaign, instead of being a mouthpiece for the truly repulsive Stop the War

      Point 2 – agreed 100%. Jon Lansman should listen to what you are saying- John Rees, Andrew Murray and Lindsey German are politically horrific and poisonous: the closer we get to them, the more discredited Labour becomes.

      Point 3 – No. If JC simply and relentlessly focusses on the economic case for socialism then he can breakthrough and smash the Tory/Lib Dem/UKIP/New Labour economic Thatcherite consensus. New Labour is now toxic…and finished. Its adherents – Hunt, Hilary Benn, Cooper, Kendall et al – will get nowhere, esp if the polls and votes show that we are on the right trajectory, like in Oldham. No need to pick deselection fights, watch how they will fall into line if we keep on winning… So no to civil war.

      Point 4 – yes and yes.

      Point 5 – oh yes!

    2. Rod says:

      Momentum is the best thing to happen in grass-roots politics for a long time.

    3. James Martin says:

      What is your evidence for ‘Assadist genocide’? In fact, do you know what genocide means?

  5. donald king says:

    The fact that Labour’s vote increased in the Oldham West & Royton by-election means precisely nothing. The turnout was only 40%. The main reason we have a Tory government rather than a Labour/SNP coalition is the electoral system. A few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies would have deprived the Tories of their slender majority. A lot of the constituencies likely to be scrapped before 2020 are Labour ‘rotten boroughs’ – small electorates and regularly low turnouts.

  6. Luke Akehurst says:

    Is the headline intended to be ironic given Labour’s superb Oldham candidate Jim McMahon was one of the 4.5%, as he supported Liz Kendall for leader?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      No Luke, you should take it straight. I don’t know who Jim voted for in the leadership election but he warmly welcomed the large numbers of supporters Momentum brought to the constituency.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Yeah one of those 4.5% Jim Mcmahon should realize that it was acorbyn that won it in oldham not, the candidate,who ever he is

    1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

      John, had we lost the Oldham by-election I’m sure you would the first say, I told you so!

      1. John P Reid says:

        And many Corbnistas would have said it was because we had a 4.5% as the candidate

        1. Robert says:

          John why are you still bothering it’s pretty obvious now Blair will not return, I suspect he never had any intention of coming back, so surely now you can perhaps start up a fan club make a bit of money for your self.

          We are told New labour is dead the chances of the right now getting back is very slim, so surely time for you to move on.

          1. John P Reid says:

            No, if I defend the idea swinging to the left is electoral suicide, it has nothing to do with McMahon, backing Kendall, I think he did it as she was blue labour a choice, because of Develution, despite Kendall, being pro the EU, and neoliberalism, which Blue labour aren’t

  8. Bazza says:

    Yes Jeremy does not fit into the careerist cadre model of University, Labour researcher, parachuted (via the Blair Progress Network) into safe Labour seats and top down, the ‘Great Men & Women of History’ who want good careers and crumbs for working people (and don’t have an original idea in their heads).
    JC has an independent mind and I think the public quite like this.
    But Jeremy & John should perhaps test their attempted jokes on friends beforehand I.e. references to Stalinist dictators, little red books- which may often be above the heads of the many.
    But brave attempts at humour & brothers and sisters the Left needs to recapture humour.
    Anyway have to go – wrapping up latest 2 Christmas presents – saw bargain today in Sports Direct – 2 for the price of 1 on football boots- got one pair for my 57 year old male friend and am giving the other to his 55 year old girlfriend.
    They laughed at this joke!
    X & Solidarity!

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