A by-election has been called in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, with polling on 13th January, 2011. Derbyshire Green Party member Peter Allen from Glossop, who stood in the High Peak in May, has been selected to represent the Green Party. The election follows the resignation of the former Labour MP Phil Woolas, who was debarred from Parliament for electoral mal-practice.
This contest will be the first electoral test for the coalition Government, and interestingly, both the LibDems and the Tories will be standing. The LibDems were 103 votes short of taking the seat from Labour in May, and under normal circumstances, they would be expected to take the seat comfortably. However, these are not normal circumstances, the LibDems are taking flack from the Tory press, and they are set to reap a bitter harvest over their U-turns on student fees, nuclear power and other issues. The word on the street is that Labour will hold the seat.
Media interest in the campaign will grow considerably in the New Year with the coalition partners competing against each other. The Tories will be keen to out poll the LibDems and they will work hard to get out their vote in the Saddleworth part of the Constituency. If they can do this, it will strengthen the hand of those in the party who want to break the coalition and go for an early poll before the advent of AV. These backwoodsmen will try hard to discredit the idea of coalition government, and as the Telegraph has done, will use any tactic how ever underhand, to convince the electorate that coalition is inherently unstable and delivers weak government. They do not want to share power – ever, they want absolute control to protect their vested interests.
This contest will also be seen as an early evaluation of Ed Millibands leadership of Labour and of his attempts to repair the damage done to the Party by Blair’s flirtation with American conservatism. He has yet to establish himself as a leader with a clear profile and agenda, and Labour has much to live down. They will find it difficult to criticise the cuts agenda that they would also have followed. They can hardly vigorously oppose the rise of student fees that they introduced, and in power, they were very keen to get private companies involved in both education delivery and the NHS.
There is also a dark side to the campaign. Oldham was the scene of serious rioting in 2001 and following that, the BNP did particularly well in both Oldham constituencies, polling 11% in Oldham East in the 2001 general election. Since then their vote has fallen back to around 5%, they did save their deposit in May. Since the riots, the causes of which remain controversial, much work has been done in the town to address the issue of segregation within the borough, but still the extreme right consider this to be fertile territory and both the BNP and the National Front have indicated that they will stand.
Many in Oldham do not accept that the riots of 2001 were race riots. There is a belief that the national media decided that this was the explanation and sensationalised events, so drawing in extremists from out of the area looking for a fight. People of Oldham are no more racist than in any other part of the country and do not welcome the inference that riots were due to local bigotry. They will probably not welcome the presence of extremist candidates in the by-election.
Greens clearly will work hard to out poll the negative extremists. Our aim is to focus the campaign on the issues that will affect the livelihoods and well-being of all people in the constituency and to offer positive alternatives to the ruinous ConDem policy of cuts. This includes the Green New Deal, a costed programme of investment in Green technology and the public sector to create thousands of sustainable jobs. We go in to the contest as the only party supporting free education at the point of delivery, knowing that it is through education that people can escape poverty and build self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, which the progressive private sector also requires.
Greens apply the same principle to the National Health Service, knowing that all people must have access to healthcare according to their needs and not their wealth. We will tell the electorate that the Green Deal is the pathway to creating thousands of new and sustainable jobs, that through a programme of home insulation we can cut energy bills, saving people money and providing work for local businesses. We will tell the electorate that the climate is changing, that the weather will become more extreme, but by addressing this issue now, we can create sustainable work and businesses now and avoid serious costs in the future. Greens will offer a positive message of hope in the face of the negative petty political point scoring of the other parties.
[Mike Shipley 23 December 2010]