>So what does the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election really mean?

>The spin-machines went into overdrive around 8 hours before the results came in, and hours before polling had even closed. So in the cold light of day, let’s have a look at what last night’s result in Oldham East and Saddleworth actually means for the three major parties.

Labour were trying to make this about the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems were trying to make this about Labour. The Tories were trying to look like they were taking part. In reality this was about all three, but the extent of impact on the parties was always going to be variable according to the result.

First of all, some context. Labour spinners are saying that on any occasion in the past couple of decades, with just 103 votes in it, the Lib Dems would walk this by election – anything short of that will be a damning judgement on their performance in government.

The Lib Dems, whilst encouraging activists they could win it, were always out to avoid humiliating defeat. They wanted to make this about Red Ed and the idealess Labour party, a narrow margin of victory would therefore be portrayed as an underwhelming appraisal of the opposition.

The Tories were caught between reality and rhetoric. They were vulnerable to the accusation that they would give a free run to the Liberals, but also recognised the chances of beating Labour whilst in government was slim. An all out assault to finish 3rd is embarrassing for a party of government, giving a free pass for their junior coalition partners would have been just as embarrassing.

So the result: Lab 14718; LD 11160; Con 4481; UKIP 2029; BNP 1560; Green 530; Loony 145; Eng Dem 144; Pirate 96; Elvis 67;  on a turnout of 48.06%

The spin doctors will continue to run their above lines, but if we wipe the mist from the windscreen I think we can make the following conclusions.

Labour have moderate consolidation of their position. We should not forget that Labour held this seat, albeit narrowly, at the height of Lib Dem popularity in May. As any government is subject to a protest vote, anything short of victory would have raised questions about the opposition’s performance. The victory was indeed an increased majority, but it was not devastating, it was good enough. Anything 3000+ would have been solid, 5000+ would have been emphatic. Less than 3000 would have started looking like an honourable defeat for the Lib Dems, not so different from Spurs’ last visit to the San Siro. [Nicely done – Spurs Ed]

The Lib Dems have stayed on their feet, and have saved themselves from the indignity of falling flat on their face, but not without the acute embarrassment of being seen stumbling back and forth before hand. Just a week or so ago some pundits were tipping the Lib Dems to be pushed back into third, and the national polls would indicate a wipeout. A victory without a victory was possible here if they were about 1500 votes closer, and let us not forget they have increased their share of the vote, but the medium term impact remains the same. The party needs to do a lot more to win the public back, this result avoided trumpeted talk of a wipeout, but was a reminder that they are actively unpopular.

The Tories will be criticised for their collapse. Many will say they have aided the Lib Dems by running a soft campaign. My experience on the ground indicated the local activists were unrelenting in their campaigning, whilst the leadership were economic in their support. It would be politically naive to suggest this had nothing to do with supporting their coalition partners, but the narrative had already been written. This was always about Labour vs Liberal Democrats, and a full on assault by the party to face defeat would have been unnecessarily damaging. The impact is marginal, with the most likely damage to be a continuation of internal mumblings.

Labour won, and they won comfortably. The Liberal Democrats lost, but didn’t lose badly. The Tories collapsed, but will shrug this off. What does Oldham East and Saddlworth really mean? Not a lot really in the medium-long term. It might affect the Westminster bubble and blogosphere for a while, but it’s not altered anything significantly, it’s merely reinforced what everyone already suspected.

by Bobby Dean – Bobby also blogs at http://yid-dem.tumblr.com

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