Friday, January 14, 2011

Are the Lib Dems jinxed in Oldham East and Saddleworth?

The latest chapter in this seat's electoral history makes me wonder if there isn't something in the stars that stops it falling into Liberal Democrat hands.

In 1992 a strong performance by Chris Davies in the former Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency made this look made this a prime candidate for a gain from the Tories at the next general election. The Lib Dems were in a close second place with a considerable Labour vote to squeeze.

Then came the by-election following the death of Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens. Although Chris Davies's victory was an important boost to the party when it was struggling to appear relevant at the height or Blair's popularity, it also showed that Labour could win the seat, which they duly did on revised boundaries in 1997.

But the longer-term prospects still looked good - it would surely fall into Lib Dem hands as soon as Labour's national success waned, with now a big Tory vote to squeeze. It was even one of just three seats where the Lib Dems topped the poll in the 1999 European elections (helped of course by Davies heading the Lib Dem list in that election).

Unfortunately the 2001 Oldham riots seemed to work against the Lib Dems, possibly pushing moderate voters towards Labour as the surest way of fighting off the BNP. One might have expected a seat with a high Muslim population to swing to the Lib Dems in 2005 in the wake of the Iraq war. Yet amid controversy about where the Lib Dem candidate lived and other such things, the national swing from Labour to the Lib Dems failed to materialise in the seat.

And last year Elwyn Watkins missed out by just 103 with a frustrating increase in the third-placed Conservative vote. Now the seat has been the scene of the first by-election to take place after the party entered coalition government with all its attendant difficult decisions. So the seat has eluded us once again.

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