Next Thursday the people of Oldham West & Royton will go to the polls to elect a new MP, to replace Michael Meacher who sadly died recently. Hopefully, Jim McMahon will be chosen to take Michael's seat, but given that this is a by-election in December when anything is theoretically possible, we cannot blame the Tories, Lib-Dems and UKIP for trying to talk down McMahon's chances.
I used to live in the Oldham West constituency, and in the 1983 general election I was the party member who drove Michael Meacher around what would become his new seat. It was new in the sense that Openshaw had been abolished and some of its wards, including mine, had ended up in Oldham West. Charles Morris had been the Openshaw MP and there was quite a bit of ill feeling in his part of the constituency that he had not been selected to fight the new Oldham West.
In that general election Labour was engaged in another one of its internal feuds between right and left, but the party had an army of new activists who had joined to fight Thatcher and we slogged our guts out to get Michael elected.
He was returned with 44% of the vote, which the old guard told us was a disaster, that was all due to our failure to select Charlie Morris!
Over a generation later later, in Jim McMahon Labour has a candidate who is not only local to the area, but is well respected in it. People know that he is the local lad who left school at 16, was a father in his early twenties and worked two jobs to put the corn on the table for his family. The fact that Labour is once again engaged in a bout of internal blood-letting is neither here nor there.
Labour's new army of activists will be talking about tax credits, benefit sanctions and the cost of any war in Syria. That the war will be paid for out of cuts to benefits strikes me as a logical line to take on the doorsteps.
The Tories and Kippers who are fantasising about Labour losing this seat really need to remember that the white population of this constituency is by and large made up of unskilled and semi-skilled people, many of whom spend a lifetime going from one minimum wage job to another with long periods on the social in-between. The Pakistanis will vote solidly against the war, but they also have solid economic reasons to oppose Toryism, since they are even more likely to be low paid than the native British.
So what's the best bet on an outcome? Well, turnout will be low as this is a by-election, and Oldham is cold, wet and miserable at the best of times, but especially in December so that will encourage people to stay at home where it's all nice and warm. We should also be honest and admit that Labour people have a habit of being disengaged from politics, anyway, especially at by-elections. It takes a general election to get them out to vote in large numbers, since it needs a lot of background noise to remind them of what's at stake. UKIP's voters will turn out since minor party people tend to be more engaged than others. So the Labour majority will be cut on the back of a very low turnout of under fifty percent, just as it was in 1983.
I will be travelling down to Manchester tomorrow, and have a hotel in the middle of the constituency. I will try to blog about the campaign, assuming that I am sober enough to do so, but as things stand, and based upon what I know about the division, Labour is odds-on to win.