Labour swept to victory in Oldham West & Royton yesterday with an increased share of the vote. Given that an awful lot of people in the media and political bubble were predicting a narrow win, and many were dreaming about the party losing the seat, that means arses have been left stinging all round.
Nigel Farage the UKIP leader rather engagingly lost the plot completely and began to bang on about how the result must have been a fix. His more deranged followers took up that theme, and are now going postal all over the web. For their part the Tories who saw their share of the vote collapse to a derisory 2,500 votes are keeping very quiet in the hope that people will not start laughing at them for this utter failure.
So how did Labour manage it? I will argue that four factors need to be considered:
The first is that Labour under old Stormin' Corbyn really is the party that wants to keep the wages up, the management down and the benefits flowing. The press and UKIP may rattle on about immigration and the like, but working class people in places like Oldham are used to having to make compromises as the price they have to pay to get some of their issues addressed. They may not like Labour's social policies, but so long as the party represents their economic interests then they will support it.
Secondly, Oldham has changed enormously in the forty years since I had the misfortune to work there. Back then the town really was an isolated shithole, with shops that closed an lunchtime, and its very own lower middle class of shopkeepers and small businessmen.
Today if you want to buy a pie in Oldham then you go to Greggs, which is part of a chain. Buying a newspaper involves going into a shop run by a Pakistani. That traditional, white, lower middle class, commercial group who ran things forty years ago from their small, independent shops are no longer around. Given that those type of people are the bedrock that UKIP rests upon, it should be obvious why the party does not have a voting core in Oldham.
Oldham has a middle class, of course it does, but they are what I like to call the polyocracy who are employed in local government, teaching or the NHS. They are not going to vote for parties like the Tories or UKIP who want to do them over economically. The Pakistani population is just as poor as its British counterparts, but is also outraged by the latest Middle East war, so you can forget them. The rest of the population, roughly sixty percent in total, are largely made up of unskilled and semi-skilled working class people who have been ignored by Labour for at least a generation. Then along came Corbyn and all of a sudden there are polices that Labour's core voters can get their teeth into - is it any wonder that they voted Labour?
Thirdly, Labour has an electoral machine, which may be a bit rusty after the Blair years, but could still be greased up and set in motion. The influx of several hundred volunteers from all over Britain who travelled to Oldham at their own expense to canvass in the pouring rain, before going to sleep another night on someone's sofa was all it needed to get the machine firing on all cylinders.
Working class people actually rather like being canvassed in person. They like it when someone knocks on the door and tells them how important their vote is, especially when it is piss pouring it down with rain outside. People are used to being ignored or taken for granted by just about everyone, and there's a knock on the door and there's some pretty little girl, dripping wet, but determined to treat them as if they matter.
Finally, Labour had a perfect candidate in Jim McMahon. A local man who left school at 16, and then worked his balls off to provide for his family. He is dismissed as a right-winger by some of the Trots, but he is actually an old Labour man who wants what is right for his people. Had Blair still been in power then some Oxbridge type would have been forced on the constituency, but Corbyn left the local party to make its own choice and they chose wisely.
Looked at in those terms, it is amazing that anyone really believed that Labour could do anything other than triumph in Oldham West & Royton.