As I have not commented on the Oldham by-election of last Thursday, just about everything that could be said may well have been said and I can imagine that a number of readers will fade out at this point. I, on the other hand, think that there are one or two points that are worth making.
First off, there was the extraordinary jubilation by Corbynistas and people who think they are cleverer than anybody else among the wider commentariat (not the same group, as it happens) because the result, according to them, proved that Corbyn is enormously popular with the electorate and his stance on Syria is supported by the country at large. In fact, next stop Number 10, if you listen to some of these people.
It is highly unlikely that anybody voted on Thursday on the basis of what they thought about a debate on Wednesday but it is possible that some voted because of Corbyn's reasonably well known attitude to extending the war on ISIS to Syria (nobody knows his attitude to the ongoing war against ISIS in Iraq, after all). It is, however, hard to argue that the retention by Labour of a very safe Labour seat with a smaller vote and smaller turn-out than the General Election proves anything very much except that .... ahem .... Oldham is a safe Labour seat.
Jim McMahon got 17,209 votes against Michael Meacher's 23, 630 in May but because the turn-out was 40.3 per cent against 59.6 per cent, his share of the actual vote cast went up from 54.8 per cent to 62.1 per cent. None of it, the retention of the seat or the lower vote and turn-out is anything but politics as usual and tells us nothing about Corbyn's appeal to the electorate of this country. The Conservatives did fairly badly, the Lib-Dims and the Greens appallingly. Let us turn to the only party for whom this result was an unexpected disaster: UKIP.
Given the results of the Danish referendum, the shift in German opinion about the euro and the French regional results where the Front National, a vaguely eurosceptic but definitely anti-establishment party is projected to win 40 per cent of the vote, it is pertinent to ask why on earth UKIP cannot manage to do better.
This question is of great importance in view of that party's desire to take a leading role in the forthcoming referendum campaign. They will not get the lead position and the attendant funding from the Electoral Commission as they are a political party but the intention often voiced by the Dear Leader and his attendant acolytes is to play a major part, particularly in North where, we were told not so long ago, Labour had betrayed the working class and a new party is needed. Some of the comments made in that article were unwise, especially two days before a by-election but then UKIP and its leader are given to unwise comments and to premature boasting. The truth is that the chances of UKIP taking Oldham from Labour were close to zero. What is so appalling is that they did not even manage to come a good second. The 2.8 per cent increase in the vote share is down to the lower turn-out. In fact, John 6,487 votes, fewer than Francis Arbour in May (8,892) and 10,722 fewer than the winner. Not a good sign of UKIP establishing itself as the leading party in the north or among the supposedly betrayed working classes anywhere.
I have been told that UKIP for some reason paid no attention to the postal voters and did not organize a significant campaign among them. If so, that was a grievous fault. The Dear Leader's comments about possible fraud because of the high level of postal voting may be written off as sour grapes but, in fact, it raises an important issue: extensive and unnecessary postal voting is open to fraud and there have been several cases when that was proven. If UKIP have evidence they should definitely take it to court. The suggestion that the voter fraud is particularly virulent in Oldham because of the ethnic make-up of the constituency is a slightly more difficult issue and one that needs a great deal more proof than Our Nige has managed to provide.
As so many times before we need to ask that question: what next for UKIP? The Labour party that proved absolutely nothing in Oldham can look after itself. But what of UKIP? Will they stop boasting and making self-satisfied statements about their position and campaign (not at the moment but likely to start again next week)? Will they rethink their main message, which has been concentrating more on immigration of all kinds (and that alone muddles issues) instead of the EU? Will they consider getting rid of their Leader for more than three days as he is not leading them anywhere near victory?