The Oldham by-election is going to be interesting. I’m not going to try and predict the result; maybe Labour will hold on with a much-reduced majority, or maybe Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour will get a very bloody nose at the hands of UKIP. Labour activists are speaking of his unpopularity on the doorsteps, and some Corbyn loyalists are shooting the messenger. Labour Twitter is ugly at the moment.
But even if Labour hold on, it will still be their Eastleigh.
Eastleigh, if you remember, was the by-election following Chris Huhne’s resignation, narrowly retained by the Liberal Democrats with the help of the opposing vote being split. But it was a pyrrhic victory, which allowed the party to remain in denial about the electoral consequences of coalition with the Tories and sleepwalk into electoral disaster this May.
A defeat at the hands of UKIP might actually be better for Labour, and for Britain.
Even though the Liberal Democrats have no chance of winning, they’re still taking this by-election seriously. This is a constituency where they came second in 2010, only to fall to fourth in 2015. If they manage to increase the share of the vote it will be a sign of the party’s slow recovery. It’s not inconceivable that they might even push the Tories into fourth place, especially if UKIP manages to squeeze the Tory vote.