Well, a couple of hours ago the polls opened for what will be the first parliamentary by-election since the formation of the Coalition government in May. There was, of course, the postponed Thirsk & Malton poll on the 27th of May, but by then the coalition dyanmics had yet to really come into play electorally speaking.
Here are the 2010 results for Oldham East and Saddleworth:
LAB - 14,186 (31.9%)
LIB - 14,083 (31.6%)
CON - 11,773 (26.4%)
(and others, although they are not numerically signficant)
A great deal of analysis has been done on this by-election and it is generally expected that Labour will win. The general trend of the opinion polls since the general election suggests the Labour vote nationally is up around 13% whereas the Liberal Democrat vote is down by around the same amount. Notably, the Conservative vote remains more or less unchanged.
Much has been made of local factors. The previous Labour MP, of course, had his result voided following a court ruling which showed that the Labour candidate had effectively told untruths about the Liberal Democrat candidate in his campaign literature - a factor which may have proved decisive given the extremely close result. I don't expect this will damage the Labour vote here too much, indeed, there has been some resentment at what is perceived as their result being decided by a distant court.
It is significant that the combined Liberal/Conservative vote here is as high as it is: 58% compared to Labour's 32%. Although these are pre-coalition figures, it does indicate that for Labour to guarantee victory they will have to shift a lot of these votes.
Despite the Conservatives' strong third-place performance here in 2010 it is widely expected that many Conservative voters will vote tactically, lending their vote to the Liberal Democrat candidate to stop Labour from winning.
I shall make a prediction:
LAB - 13,476 (46%)
LIB - 7,531 (26%)
CON - 4,538 (15%)
OTH - 3,837 (13%)
Turnout being roughly 40%.
Based on these figures, the old saying that this will be the 'first real test for the Coalition' is somewhat misleading, as it is not a test they are expected to pass. The expectation is with Labour, although this may harm them: first it may encourage even more tactical voting from Conservatives to boost the Libdem vote. Second, any increase in expectation will just make defeat all the more unstomachable. The Liberal Democrats will only be humiliated if they come third. Labour will be humiliated if they come second. The Tories... if they come fourth I suppose. Despite the BNP polling 11% here in 2001, there is no single significant fourth party presence here.
Polls close at 10pm and results are expected at 2am.
Also, we'll be expecting another by-election sometime early this year! The MP for Barnsley Central has stood down after admitting fraud over his expenses. He was elected as a Labour MP in 2010 with 47% of the vote, 30% more than the second place candidate. Consequently, it will be rather a different type of by-election to this one, and potentially less interesting. Oldham East and Saddleworth is rare in that it was a genuine three-way marginal in the General Election. Barnsley Central is a definitive Labour safe-seat and so there's not even much chance of a two-way scrap, let alone a three-way scrap. More signficant would be a by-election in a Tory held marginal (with Labour in second place): or better still, a Tory held marginal with the Liberal Democrats in 2nd and Labour in 3rd. Of course the next major electoral test (one whose date is non-negotiable) are the Scottish Parliamentary and Welsh Assembly elections in May, as well as the council elections of the same month.
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