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Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election: A left-wing workers' alternative needed
THE OLDHAM East and Saddleworth parliamentary by-election on 13 January, a three-way marginal seat last year, was a muted affair in much of Oldham this time. The by-election had been called after an election court dismissed Labour's MP Phil Woolas, because he had falsely accused the Lib Dem candidate during the general election of 'supporting Islamist extremists'.
By an Oldham Socialist Party member
The result constitutes a massive rejection of the Con-Dem cuts across the constituency. Labour improved its majority from just over 100 to over 3,000 votes.
The numbers voting Lib Dem held up while the Tory vote fell sharply, suggesting either Tories voted tactically for the Lib Dems whose previous support among Asian and white working class voters returned to New Labour, or the Tory vote simply did not turn out.
The result is bad news for the Tory party. The party's right-wing is already demanding more influence. This is resisted by Cameron as something which could split the fragile Con-Dem alliance. Locally, Labour claimed that Tory activists told voters to vote Lib-Dem.
Most campaigning centred on relatively affluent Saddleworth, with Lib Dems and New Labour attempting to win so-called 'Middle England' swing voters by bombarding them daily.
The other, poorer, parts of the constituency were ignored. Those are where the public spending cuts will be felt hardest. None of the main parties offered anything other than cuts, no improvements to social and economic deprivation in an area where 7.2% of homes have no private bathroom or central heating. The council expects to make 800 redundancies, 600 of which are rumoured to be from frontline social services, affecting the most vulnerable.
The divisive and racist BNP lost its deposit, and with 4.5%, saw their percentage drop.
The New Labour victor, Debbie Abrahams, talked after the election about opposing the cuts but this was not matched by New Labour's campaign.
Abrahams resigned as chair of Rochdale Primary Care Trust over the use of private companies in health care a few years ago and supported NHS anti-cuts protests at the time. However, this was not mentioned during the election.
Oldham desperately needs a clear campaign against the cuts, council redundancies, racism, sub-standard housing and social deprivation. None of these were addressed by New Labour, who focussed on implementing the cuts differently (no police cuts), rather than fighting the cuts.
While local voters have clearly rejected the Con-Dem cuts, any faith in New Labour and its brand of Thatcherism is misplaced. On the Socialist Party's public stalls, people say they want the bankers and rich to pay for the mess they created, not to lose public services and jobs.
A genuine left campaign would have been based on the experience of workers' lives, reaching out to the poorer parts of the constituency as well as the better-off.
On an anti-cuts basis, it would have resonated across all communities in Oldham and with workers nationally, giving impetus to the forthcoming period of intense class struggle. Workers will require a political voice as part of the fight against cuts.
In The Socialist 19 January 2011:
National Shop Stewards Network
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news