The Tories are the real winners here
by Kitty Ussher
Labour activists are celebrating today following their candidate’s victory in Oldham East and Saddleworth, but it won’t be long before their hangover kicks in. Because the real winners of this much-contested seat are the third-place candidates, the Tories. On paper it looks good for Labour. This was a Tory seat until 1995 when the Liberal Democrats took it in the high-profile Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election. Labour only won by the slimmest of margins last May; their win was consolidated last night with their highest ever share of the vote, up 10 per cent to 42 per cent.
But in the longer term, it would have been better for Labour if the Tories had won, and they had come second. That would have put so much pressure on the Lib Dems that it would have created a serious headache for Nick Clegg from within his own party, which in turn would have piled pressure on the coalition, increasing the changes of an early election. This is the thing that Cameron fears most. He needs to get through the cuts and into the promised land of budget surpluses to spend before he can think about going to the polls. The Conservatives were right to cede the territory to their junior partner, ensuring a Labour victory with the Lib Dems second. That leaves them in the running to fight the longer battle of getting to the next election in one piece.
So Ed Miliband was right to adopt a cautious approach to this win, saying that it is the “first step in a long journey” for his party. But the Tories are already on a journey; for them last night’s result has eliminated a road block along the way.