Friday, January 14, 2011

What does the Old & Sad result mean for the coalition

With the Tories pushed to a distant third place and a massive Labour majority of 3,500 delivered in Thursday's by-election in Oldham and Saddleworth does this result really have any bearing on the future of the coalition?

I'm coming a bit late to this, with pretty much every politico under the sun having passed their judgement already, but for what it's worth here's my two cents.

The Oldham result strengthens the Coalition and increases the chance of it surviving for two reasons:
1) The Lib Dems actually increased their vote share, proving that being in coalition with the Conservatives hasn't actually damaged them electorally. Quite a lot has been written about whether these were traditional Lib Dem voters or tactically voting Tories, but from an electoral point of view who cares. When you're expecting you vote to collapse (as national opinion polls suggest) because of who you've been associating with then an increase in your vote share can only show your your worries were unfounded.

This increase will stop back benchers from grumbling (well Lib Dem ones anyway!) and reduce the risk that they'll stop supporting the government on the grounds they want to protect themselves at the next election.

2) Overall more people voted for the Coalition than Labour, by a long way. If there had been a coalition candidate (and I'm not suggesting there should have been) then they would have walked it. This proves that voters overall like what the coalition are doing, it's just that the vote in favour is split two ways.

So in my view the Oldham vote only strengthens the Coalition, and reduces the chances of a Lib Dem back bench revolt which brings down the government. The only danger is that with such a fall in the Conservative vote share we risk giving the grumblers in blue yet more to grumble about. The so called "mainstream" Conservatives (a phrase I think couldn't describe the grouping less) will just add this to their long list of reasons why the PM and the party should swing further right. Sadly they're wrong but it won't stop them trying.

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