The Times’ advice to voters in Oldham: “They should vote Lib Dem.”

Well, here’s a bit of a turn-up… While the Lib Dems’ erstwhile friends, the Guardian and Independent, take delight in stilettoing the party, The Times has come out in support of the Lib Dems’ Elwyn Watkins in next week’s Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.

No link, I’m afraid — blame the paper’s paywall — but here’s an excerpt the final line of which I imagine will find its way onto a few Lib Dem leaflets over the next seven days:

A Labour victory in Oldham might lead the party, quite wrongly, to think itself on the right course when, in fact, it is not on a course at all. … But there is a more positive reason for hoping that Labour is deprived of the victory that it expects in Oldham. It is that courage and public-spirited service deserve their reward.

And this motive tempts The Times to offer readers who have a vote in Oldham advice that we have never offered before. They should vote Lib Dem.

Many minor-party by-election upsets have been fuelled by protest votes. Nick Clegg’s party is attempting the opposite trick: a minor-party upset fuelled by admiration for showing a sense of responsibility and for a willingness to take tough decisions in Government.

It is true that potential Liberal Democrat supporters in Oldham East & Saddleworth are no longer being offered an anti-establishment rebellion against the political system. But they are being offered the candidate
of a party with real influence, which has used that influence to advance policies it believes in.

In practice, the Conservatives cannot win this by-election, which has become a two-party battle. It would be better for Oldham and the country if the Liberal Democrats were to win it.

So enthusiastic and well-timed is the endorsement it’s enough to make you think that influential folk well-connected to the Tory-supporting paper have suggested the editorial line would be a politically savvy move. Perish the thought.

Elywn Watkins has welcomed the paper’s support:

“I am proud to see that The Times has endorsed our campaign for Oldham East and Saddleworth. As they say, Phil Woolas’ campaign was disreputable and Labour does not deserve to retain a seat in which they preyed on racial tensions.

“I am campaigning locally on things that matter to residents and by showing I am able to make difficult decisions. Labour are here with no answers, no regrets and no apologies.

“We offer the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth a party with real influence, which we have used to advance policies we believe in: helping pensioners, raising the income tax threshold and putting extra money into our schools through the pupil premium.”

The Times has done its bit: will you do yours? To find out how you can help Elwyn’s campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth click here.

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43 Comments

  • The whole world’s gone topsy turvy. This is great news although it does little to help us in the war against Labour Trolls claiming we’ve “turned into Conservatives”.

  • Unfortunately, Lib Dem odds have since lengthened, e.g: http://smarkets.com/politics/uk/by-elections/oldham-east-and-saddleworth-2010

    I think it would be an awesome coup to win this, it would be a real shock and an upset for Labour.

  • The last line you flagged up in the commentary is clearly brilliant for leaflets in OES.

    For the longer term and more general use, however, I particularly like this:
    “… courage and public-spirited service deserve their reward.”
    Spot on!

  • So Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Times’ says vote Lib Dem … hmm. Shameful. Yet another stain on the party’s reputation and another nail in its coffin.

    I have voted Lib Dem at the past five or so General Elections and at most of the European and local elections over the last twenty years, but if I lived in Oldham I would definitely NOT vote Lib Dem next week – the party, and Nick Clegg in particular, deserves a good kicking for what it is doing as part of the Coalition. I would probably vote Labour, but not with any great enthusiasm since the totality of their policies are not significantly better than those of the Coalition. Quite frankly all the political parties are useless and none are deserving of our votes.

  • Even if they had the right ideas, the right leader and had not lied to us for the last few years Labour would deserve to lose here. As they have none of these, and the local party must have supported the Woolas leaflets they deserve to lose.

    As someone who has been critical of a number of the coalitions policies I would still not be tempted to register a protest vote if I lived there. They just cannot be allowed to win after pulling such stunts……

  • Crikey.

    Uncle Rupert supports the Lib Dems?

    The World has indeed gone mad.

    Ever get the feeling Mr Coulson’s old pals are doing him a favour?

  • conservative 6th Jan '11 - 10:25pm

    maybe we will have a merger after all (save Rupert having to do 2 editorials for each election for Davey C)…

  • @ Terry

    ‘I would probably vote Labour, but not with any great enthusiasm since the totality of their policies are not significantly better than those of the Coalition”

    But Terry, the whole point is they don’t have any policies.

    Meanwhile, the latest Yougov has us at 7% and Labour at 43%. Incredible that 43% of people think it is OK to wreck the public finances and then oppose any attempts to sort them out.

  • David Allen 6th Jan '11 - 11:31pm

    “Labour would deserve to lose here. As …the local party must have supported the Woolas leaflets they deserve to lose.”

    Yes, I sympathise. However, Woolas did lose. His career is in ruins. He deserves all he got. But he has now taken his severe punishment.

    There is now a larger issue. Do the voters of Oldham and Saddleworth want to endorse the way Clegg has led the Lib Dems in coalition? Because if we win, that will assuredly be the spin.

    Well, I have never believed that we ought to have a Green Party, because I think it isolates a crucial issue and identifies it fatally as a minority enthusiasm. However, I’d be tempted to vote Green if I lived in in Old and Sad.

  • Ed The Snapper 6th Jan '11 - 11:39pm

    Incredible head in the sand stuff by LibDems. They do not remotely understand why they have lost so many voters like me and have just resorted to insulting the electorate. Getting endorsed by a traditionally Tory paper owned by Rupert Murdoch is just another nail in the coffin. My view is that the Tory leadership have a plan over the next few years to wreck the credibility of the LibDem party by supporting the LibDems whenever there is a battle between Labour and the LibDem party. In 5 years time, the Tories can then face off in a clear battle against the Labour party without the distraction of having the LibDems taking any Tory voters away. Right wing LibDems will in 5 years times have started supporting the Tories. Wake up, LibDems. The Tory leadership is much cleverer than the LibDem leadership.

  • The Times supports The Lib Dems purely because they support the coalition’s cuts, in other words, they want the Lib Dems to win because they want the Tory agenda to win.

    “In practice, the Conservatives cannot win this by-election”

    There’s the real reason.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Jan '11 - 11:55pm

    Some silly people here. It’s called tactical voting and tactical endorsement. Are we supposed to tell Tory voters in Oldham that we don’t want their votes?

    Tony Greaves

  • @Robert C

    “Incredible that 43% of people think it is OK to wreck the public finances and then oppose any attempts to sort them out.”

    I voted Lib Dem last year under the impression that they agreed with Labour that the Tories were proposing to cut too far, too fast. I never expected to hear Lib Dems turn around and spout Tory propaganda like the above as part of the coalition deal. That’s just one of the many reasons why you’re down to 7%.

  • Man on the Bus 7th Jan '11 - 12:45am

    “Some silly people here. It’s called tactical voting and tactical endorsement. Are we supposed to tell Tory voters in Oldham that we don’t want their votes?”

    When it comes to the leader of the Tory party wishing a Lib Dem candidate in a by-election well, because the Lib Dem MPs are being such excellent Tory stooges, and when it comes to the Murdoch press endorsing a Lib Dem candidate as the best available surrogate Tory, then in that situation I think you should consider very carefully what you are doing and what the consequences are going to be.

    The reason you are down to 7% in the polls is that most of the people who voted Lib Dem in May are not at all happy about the treacherous way in which the parliamentary party is behaving.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 7th Jan '11 - 1:21am

    ‘extra money into our schools through the pupil premium’

    Can we get him done for lying too? It’s not extra money, it’s shuffled money from cuts to other social mobility initiatives.

  • Peter Chegwyn 7th Jan '11 - 1:42am

    Well the Times quote is wonderful for Lib. Dem. leaflets and I’d really like to believe Rupert Murdoch has Lib. Dem. interests at heart but I suspect he’s more interested in shafting Labour and ensuring his Conservative friends remain in Government with Lib. Dem. support.

    Do such endorsements make much difference? In the 1984 Enfield Southgate (Portillo) by-election, Robert Maxwell suggested (I believe in a conversation with David Steel) that the Mirror should include a Polling Day editorial urging people to vote Liberal. Unfortunately his print-workers refused to print it. Liberal campaign organisers (of whom I was one) despatched one David Hughes to find David Steel (there were no mobile phones in those days) in the hope he could persuade Maxwell to somehow get his paper and editorial printed. The Mail held their front page while waiting to see what happened. Newsnight’s Vincent Hanna, broadcasting live from a church in Enfield, also got wind of the story. But the end result was that the Mirror just printed a lame editorial urging people not to vote Conservative. And Portillo won the seat.

    An endorsement from a Maxwell Mirror would have been a bigger story than an endorsement from a Murdoch Times. But do such editorial endorsements really persuade people to change their votes? On their own, probably not. But such quotes are of great use for party leaflets where they can help build momentum and create a bandwagon effect to carry a candidate to victory. One hopes that will happen in Oldham. But watching the contest from 200 miles away I suspect the key factor will be whether enough former Conservative voters switch tactically to the Lib. Dems. out of gratitude for putting Cameron into No. 10 to outnumber those former Lib. Dem. voters who go to Labour, the fringe parties, or simply stay at home.

    That’s what will make the difference. Good old-fashioned tactical voting… or the lack of it.

  • Ed the Sapper
    Right wing Tories will in 5 years times have started supporting UKIP in much larger numbers. Is the Tory leadership much cleverer than the LibDems?

  • Manfarang. “Yes” is the answer, the Tory leadership is infinitely cleverer than the LibDems’, that’s why the Tories are getting all their policies through Parliament whist the LibDems get none of theirs through. That’s why the Tories (YouGov) are still on 39% while the LibDems are on 7%. The LibDems are on a death-wish, and they sit there and let it happen.

  • Emsworthian 7th Jan '11 - 9:40am

    Being endorsed by the Times is an insult to most true liberals!

  • ATEOTD who cares what the Times’ motive is if the result is another Lib Dem MP.

    Ed the Snapper – “When the May elections come round, we will all be able to see the extent to which liberal-minded voters have turned away from the LibDem party.”

    An interesting comment, this. Most of the comments from disappointed (purportedly) ex-voters like yourself seem to be that the party is becoming too Liberal> I would think/hope liberal-minded voters would be turning to the party.

  • If all critical remarks from angry ex voters were fake, why are the lib dems polling 7%?

    Some of you really are dillusional! I’d be to scared to wear a yellow rosette if I was knocking doors on some council estate up north.

  • Larry – I’d have thought most politicians of any colour would have some misgivings about knocking on doors on a council estate up north.

    After both Charlie and Ming were deposed, polling figures were around 11% IIRC. Would I rather figures were higher? Yes, of course. But when a government is having to do some unpopular things low poll ratings are to be expected. As are defeats of local councillors.

    OTOH there are a lot of people out there who thought the Lib Dems were only ever a party of protest who are there to be persuaded otherwise.

  • Hove Howard 7th Jan '11 - 12:03pm

    ATEOTD who cares what the Times’ motive is if the result is another Lib Dem MP.

    A victory would be a victory with Tory endorsement, as a grateful slap on the back for supporting Tory policies for very little in return.

    I am an ex-member, and when I read comments like this I am ever more convinced that I did the right thing not to hang around to see if the tide would turn. The economic liberals and small state fetishists have clearly won out over those who consider public services important.

    Voting is always about choosing the least bad option, and in this election, under FPTP, that would be Labour for me.

  • From what I remember, many Times commentators have been pretty favourable to us over the past few years, but always with a heavy dose of “they’ll never get in,” “they lack credibility”, “they say what they want” blah blah. Now that we’re in government and are indeed taking tough decisions, it’s not so surprising that they’re more openly supportive.

  • HH – “I am an ex-member, and when I read comments like this I am ever more convinced that I did the right thing not to hang around to see if the tide would turn. The economic liberals and small state fetishists have clearly won out over those who consider public services important.

    Voting is always about choosing the least bad option, and in this election, under FPTP, that would be Labour for me.”

    This is a common fallacy. It’s precisely because we do value public services that the economic Liberals in the party want to see them reformed, not atrophying away through user frustration. Good public services need to be responsive to user needs, not beholden to producer interests. It is because Labour always forget this (and the same goes for Tories who support private monopolistic behaviour too) that the public services suffer.

    Before you vote Labour, I would go away and ask yourself what another 5 years of Gordon Brown would have brought the country.

    Valerie – how goes it?

  • Tabman – not badly – hope you too.

  • ‘As they have none of these, and the local party must have supported the Woolas leaflets they deserve to lose.’

    Goodness, I wish some people would be a little bit more cautious on this. The electoral court (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2010/2702.html) made three findings against Woolas. Copies of the leaflets are in the link. That he said of Watkins that he (i) had attempted to woo the vote and seek the electoral support of Muslims who advocated violence; (ii) had refused to condemn extremists who advocated violence against Woolas; and (iii) had reneged on his promise to live in the constituency. The appeal struck the third of these findings out. (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2010/3169.html). This is not, to my mind an outcome that looks good for anyone.

    What this seems to mean is that the appeal court decided Woolas’ lies about Watkins supporting Muslim extremists is somehow something that can cause a court to overturn a vote. On the other hand, being less than open about where a candidate lives is, it would seem not something that the courts feel invalidates a vote. Quite where a signed pledge on HE fees fits into all this is anyone’s guess. Woolas may or may not have been a bad person, I never met him. But there is something about this whole affair that is not satisfactory and I just can’t really reconcile it in my head.

    This has to be the most depressing by election ever. It is pretty much an issue free zone. I’d rather talk about the deficit than see who can shriek, ‘liar,’ loudest. The Lib Dems used to have a proud record of campaigning on local issues, it all just seems to have been lost.

  • Hove Howard 7th Jan '11 - 1:33pm

    Tabman: erm, Gordon Brown’s not leading Labour any longer. I voted and campaigned for my local Lib Dem candidate in 2010, at which point Vince Cable was describing Osborne’s prescription of cuts as ‘economic masochism’, if you remember.

    Re public services – can’t see how improvement is compatible with spending cuts and more privatisation, which I assume is the prescription that lies behind what you say – correct me if I’m wrong. Has it occured to you that ‘user needs’ and ‘producer interests’ might not actually be diametrically opposed – or that existing ‘producers’ might be better placed to meet ‘user needs’ than some lowest common denominator market solution, in which the need to turn in a profit trumps everything?

    Sometimes monopoly supply is the least worst option – as we will find out with the Royal Mail privatisation, and have already found out with the railway network. And public monopolies are preferable to private ones, where there is at least some semblance of democratic control.

    Back to the Times endorsement – are you familiar with the concept of being hugged to death?

  • HH – Brown may not be leading Labour any longer but the alternative in May 2010 was him.

    Your comments seem to imply there is a direct causal link between money in and service out. Unfortunately, this has been proven many times and in many places not to be the case. The key to delivering any kind of service is adaptability, flexibility, and closeness to the consumer of that service.

    As to monopolies – its not being a monopoly per se, but the size of the organisation and the layers of insulation between those making management decisions and those at the front end (both deliverer and consumer). One of the drawbacks to public ownership is the lack of long-term strategic control due to the chopping and changing wrought by different incoming administrations. This short termism exists in the private sector too, of course.

    The key to all of this is a radical approach to organisational design and size. Monolithic organisations are the problem, be they public or private.

  • Hove Howard 7th Jan '11 - 3:44pm

    Tabman: no I don’t think there ‘direct causal link’ between money in and service out in public services. However, it would be foolish to deny that cuts of 25%-odd won’t have a negative impact, unless you are living in some kind of Eric Pickles la-la land.

    His (and Cameron’s) line about ‘maintaining frontline services’ really is the most offensive, patronising bilge, trying to deflect anger on to hard-pressed local authorities – even the Tory ones are getting pissed off with it. I’d liken it to ordering the demolition of all but the facade of a building and then blaming the contractors when it falls down.

    It’s difficult to disagree in principle with what you say about smaller organisations, etc., except that in practice this leads to nonsense like Lansley’s NHS plans, which are essentially privatisation by the back door since most GPs don’t want to do the extra work themselves. Do you support these reforms, I am curious to know?

    The effect of such reforms – where the profit motive obtrudes into public service provision – is also invariably to damage the wages and working conditions of those who work in the sector. Or rather, the lower paid who do so – the consultants and the chief execs (the real robber barons in this instance) are left unscathed.

    All in all, what you say comes over as not a lot more than warmed-up Blairism. Count me out, thanks.

  • I am really sorry to say that I find the LibDem defence of everything they have done since May false and offensive. In government they have become worse than the other two for putting a rosy tint on lousy policies. I am glad that as an ex-LD voter, I have (according to YouGov) lots of company. After the ‘Old and Sad’ expect mega-spin, with the Blairesque theme “it can only get better”. Can’t wait!

    To the moderator. I can well understand that you will not like this comment, but is that of itself reason enough to delete it?

  • Paul McKeown 7th Jan '11 - 6:36pm

    I have to say I was left incredulous after hearing Sadiq Khan’s comment: I had thought that Labour under Miliband intended to pursue a more liberal policy on issues such as civil rights and crime. Apparently political opportunism trumps that, or possibly simply sticking a wet finger in the air to determine which direction the Daily Mail is blowing hot air from takes a higher priority.

    Shakes head in disbelief.

  • hardly a surprise, murdoch supports the tory led coalition(he obviously would have preferred an outright tory victory). the best way to do this is to support the libdems. both the times and cameron want a libdem victory in oldham. if in another election the tories win an outright victory the tory press will go back to bashing the libdems as before.

  • HH – some responses

    1) AIUI the cuts are 25% over 5 years (or maybe 4), not 25% in one year. This is a much more gradual approach – try compounding it – and can be managed by productivity increases. Its certainly the approach taken in the business that I work in, and it does work.

    2) GP reforms. Privatisation of GPs? I don’t think GPs are being privatised, are they? THey’re still the ones who make clinical decisions. They’re just contracting out (in some cases) the management of their finances to people who manage finances as their core business.

    3) Damage to pay and conditions of existing workforces. What is your evidence for this?

  • Hove Howard 7th Jan '11 - 11:36pm

    Tabman

    1) Sorry, this dosen’t wash. 25% cut is 25% lost however you spin it out. Are you sure you’re not Eric Pickles in disguise? By using the term ‘productivity increases’ you betray your prejudices – how on earth can something like nursing be judged in bald economic terms such as this? The accountants have truly taken over the asylum.

    Some cuts are more than that of course – my own public sector body faces something like a 35% cut.

    And during the four years process of cuts that you mention, we as a nation can apparently afford year-on-year cuts in corporation tax. This will benefit – among others – the banks! I suppose you’re happy enough about that too…

    2) I don’t find ‘just contracting out’ of GPs ancilliary services to be acceptable, especially when those anciliary services are now going to include the functions of the abolished boards and trusts. It is just alchemising yet more public money into private profit. Like I said, it is a backdoor privatisation and most of the people who work in the NHS are predicting chaos, as it’s been rushed through with little thought – just as Dr Cable confided to a couple of young women recently.

    3) If you don’t believe me that privatisation generally leads to worse pay and conditions for workers then frankly you ought to widen your social circle and get out more. The profit margins have to come from somewhere, and as I said, it ain’t from the pockets of the consultants and chief executives.

    One curiosity in your earlier post – you complained that there was a lack of strategic control in publicly owned bodies owing to ‘the chopping and changing wrought by different incoming administrations’. We’ve only had two changes of national government since 1979, so that remark leaves me scratching my head.

    Back on topic, here’s what News International really think about the Lib Dems, from the ex-editor of the Sun David Yelland.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/18/clegg-media-elite-murdoch-lib-dem

  • Ed The Snapper 8th Jan '11 - 10:59pm

    “Ed the Snapper – “When the May elections come round, we will all be able to see the extent to which liberal-minded voters have turned away from the LibDem party.” An interesting comment, this. Most of the comments from disappointed (purportedly) ex-voters like yourself seem to be that the party is becoming too Liberal> I would think/hope liberal-minded voters would be turning to the party.”

    [Groan] Another pointless accusation of lying aimed at sometime-LibDem voters like me….Another coffin nail…Another reason for me to not bother voting LibDem again and give a protest vote to my local Green candidate…I don’t think the disgruntled voters are complaingin about the LibDems becoming too “Liberal”. The loss of LibDem votes is due to the LibDems becoming far too close the Tory Party. The Tory Party remains distrusted by many people who were affected by the Tory governments between 1979-1997. I think the LibDem leadership do not understand those feelings of distrust. The result is the poor LibDem polling figures.

  • @ Ed the Snapper

    Comments like those by Tabman appear with monotonous regularity on this site, and on other LD loyalist blogs; the best way for them to dismiss any principled opposition to their actions is to claim that people like you and I aren’t sincere, or are Labour party stooges. Of course they have no evidence of this at all, but it never stops the constant repetition. It’s the debating equivalent of wrapping yourself in the flag, and about as credible.

    It IS interesting that Lib Dem voice now goes out of its way to attack The Independent, whilst taking comfort from the advice doled out by The Times. Some might consider that in itself enough evidence to demonstrate the fall from grace of a once principled and well regarded progressive political movement; I disagree…. their action in the last six months have done that more than adequately.

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