A number of Labour MPs are campaigning in Oldham today, with fears growing in the party that it could be in serious trouble in the by-election there. Even though Michael Meacher won the seat in May with a 14,000 majority, the fears that I reported last week about white working class voters turning away from Labour and plumping instead for Ukip seem to be growing. No MP who has been there has anything positive to say about what they’ve seen, other than that their candidate, Jim McMahon, is hugely impressive.
Some Labourites with a good knowledge of the seat are worried that the party may do well in postal votes, but perform poorly on polling day itself. ‘It therefore depends on us having a sophisticated postal vote operation in order to win,’ says one source. Ukip has struggled with postal votes in the past, but it has also learned from those struggles: the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election was one fight in particular that taught the party the importance of having a good operation on this front.
Labour MPs are blaming Jeremy Corbyn specifically for their struggles in this seat, saying that white working class voters do not like what he is saying about defence and terrorism. They are particularly annoyed that the party seems to be having such a hard time against Ukip, which is currently a demoralised party led by people who seem to hate each other. ‘If we can’t win a safe Labour seat against that lot, then what does that say?’
Oddly, given the nerves about the result, a number of members and parliamentary staffers have told me that the party hasn’t contacted them about campaigning sessions. ‘Given the party’s previous reputation for filling people’s inboxes with all sorts of junk, this silence is deafening,’ frets one willing campaigner.
Now, the chances are that these jitters do not mean that Labour is about to lose a by-election to Ukip but are a good way of getting the party to pour everything it possibly can into the seat, and also of warning the leadership about the positions it is taking. But even if that is true, it shows what a pickle the party is in.