Lib Dems to move writ for Oldham East and Saddleworth by election tomorrow

From Andrew Sparrow’s PoliticsLive blog:

The Lib Dems are going to move the writ for the Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection tomorrow, a party spokesman has just told me. They want the contest to be held on Thursday 13 January. Normally the party that used to hold the seat moves the writ, but this is a convention, not a rule, and the Lib Dems say the constituency has waited long enough for an MP. If Labour opposes the move, there will be a debate and a vote.

I’m sure there is a precedent for holding a byelection campaign over Christmas, but I can’t think of one. The Lib Dem candidate, Elwyn Watkins, is already well established in the constituency – he was only 103 votes behind Phil Woolas in May – and a quick campaign will boost his chances.

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  • Hmmm.

    Students not back from Xmas holidays by then are they?

  • “The Lib Dem candidate, Elwyn Watkins, is already well established in the constituency – he was only 103 votes behind Phil Woolas in May – and a quick campaign will boost his chances.”

    This smacks a bit of desperation to be honest. There is, I believe, a convention not to campaign over Christmas. Anyone who rang me during those precious days with my family, or worse knocked on my door would be sure to lose my vote.

    Also, I would have thought the more time between the Tuition fees debacle and the vote the better…..
    Labour will still have time to print enough pictures of Elwyn holding the pledge and will use this to counter the charge that they lied through Woolas. (I don’t agree they are the same, I’m just making the point).

    Yes, the constituents have gone without representation, but another week or so would not hurt. Again this will really hack off the Party that the Lib Dems will need to support them if they are to win the AV vote.

  • Chris Keating 15th Dec '10 - 6:03pm

    Steve – I don’t think the Labour Party’s opinion of the Lib Dems could be any clearer. “We might irritate Labour” isn’t going to be a persuasive argument for Liberal Democrats for many years to come….

  • For the Lib Dems to move the writ does seem a little strange. I don’t have much time for the convention as it can be misused by a governing party (eg the 17 months wait for the Donegal South West by-election) but the incumbent party will generally be at a disadvantage at the time of the vacancy and should have time to get a candidate selected and known before the writ is moved.

    The Speaker said after the original verdict on Woolas that he would not accept a writ being moved before the former MP had come to the end of the judicial attempt to overturn the Election Court’s decision. That was fair because once a writ had been moved, Woolas would have not been allowed back as an MP even if he’d been successful in the High Court. The High Court ruled against Woolas on the 3rd December and I don’t think that even a Lib Dem can characterise 12 days as being unreasonably long to move the writ.

    Now that the Liberal Democrats have broken the convention, would it be reasonable for a Tory or Labour whip to move the writ as soon as a Lib Dem held seat becomes vacant?

  • @Chris Keating
    “don’t think the Labour Party’s opinion of the Lib Dems could be any clearer. “We might irritate Labour” isn’t going to be a persuasive argument for Liberal Democrats for many years to come….”

    Then don’t expect the support that will be needed to win the AV vote, and don’t moan when it is lost.

    Labour are the opposition, they made a hash of a great many things whilst in Government (but also got a lot right), but if the Lib Dems persist in making them the enemy then the meaning of plural politics is clear – it’s a semi permanant coalition with the Tories.

  • david clayton 15th Dec '10 - 6:43pm

    Where does all this confidence come from. I am a Labour member but i know Tories in Saddleworth and they are feeling confident the Lib Dem vote is going to collapse and the Woolas driven backlash is sure to benefit them. Frankly i would rather have Lib Dems if Labour lose but……… Well have you spoken to anyone round there? You have got an uphill struggle to say the least. Griffin could be interesting as well. I think he should firm up the Labour vote as the anti horrible Nazi vote.

    For any of you betting types i reckon a couple of quid on the tories might be worth a go

  • We took 31 days to move the writ in Cheadle. Tomorrow would be 41 days since the original Election Court decision and as pointed out above.12 since Woolas’ legal challenge against that decision ended.

  • Awful comments – why should the timing of an election be based on how long a party has to print leaflets, or putting distance between unpopular policies being passed and polling day. Even worse is the suggestion that the Lib Dems shouldn’t want a by-election as they might upset Labour and lose yes to AV campaigners!

    Constituents need an MP as soon as possible. If Labour won’t move (if not, why not?) then I see nothing wrong with the Lib Dems moving.

    The real question to ask is why Labour don’t want an election as soon as possible. They’ve selected a candidate and it’s clear that Ed Miliband supported Woolas but realises that he lost. I don’t see why there’s confusion and I think the Labour party should move the writ tomorrow.

    Woolas got found out. Ed Miliband’s poor judgement of character has been found out too. Bring on the election.

  • @Mike
    I didn’t say it should be based upon the printing of leaflets, merely pointed out that they will follow a certain route..

    As for the fact that I believe the bigger distance from the Tuition fees debacle the better this is just comparable the the post stating that “Elwyn Watkins, is already well established in the constituency – he was only 103 votes behind Phil Woolas in May – and a quick campaign will boost his chances.”

    Both are judgements about where the best advantage lies.

    Labour haven’t moved the writ because it is not usual to campaign over Christmas. Once the judgment was delayed too long to allow a pre-Christmas election it seemed a foregone conclusion. Changing the convention on who moves the writ (without bothering to attempt dialogue as was clear from PMQ’s) is just a bit petty. Like many things the current leadership is doing it may come back to haunt them if Labour do the same following a vacancy in a Lib dem seat.

    As I have posted on other blogs the real problem is that there is a drive to vilify Labour that can only be counter productive when there is a need work with them in the near future. Beat them in the election – they deserve nothing less after Woolas, but do so without closing the door on future cooperation.

  • I dont know who the David Clayton above is but this David Clayton has been out canvassing in Oldham East and I can tell you the Tory vote is very soft and the Lib Dem vote is as strong as it was – I was expecting some slippage to Labour but residents certainly respect the principled stand against Labour party lies and innuendo – the sooner we can give them the kicking they deserve the better. I urge you all to get up here and do what we do best – campaign hard and give Labour a beating they thoroughly deserve in this constituency. – Oh – and treat yourself to a little wager on Elwyn – still good odds.

  • Oh good. It’ll give people a chance to show you how unpopular the coalition really is ouitside the Westminster bubble. Prepare not for a defeat but for a humiliation.

  • Of course Labour should be vilified in Oldham and Saddleworth.

    They are a disgrace. Running a racist campaign is scandalous, and they deserve to be crushed in this election.

    I for one would resign my membership if we were to let Labour get away with racism just in case we need to work with them in the future.

    I hope Labour get a good kicking. At the moment, they have no plans, are in denial about the deficit and scuppered any possibility of coalition talks. Labour in recent years were the antithesis of Liberalism – to be fair to David Cameron he has embraced coalition politics.

    There may be a small vocal minority of “Lib Dems (or Labour trolls?)” who want a lib-lab deal, but the vast majority of Lib Dems support the coalition and the evidence is the Birmingham special conference. Labour don’t want to work with us, they want to destroy us. Stay clear.

  • david clayton 15th Dec '10 - 9:32pm

    “the principled stand against Labour party lies and innuendo”……hmmm ok Woolas was a git. Good luck selling yourselves as the principled party. And no i dont go canvassing there i was reporting what some local tories had said to me. Maybe you are finding strong support on the doorsteps. i bet you aren’t asking any students that answer the door 😉 I have a tenner on the tories as an interesting outside bet. I make money betting on politics – did well on the number of seats Lib Dems got in May, very good odds for the final result. and then i lose it all betting on football.

  • This is an interesting by-election, and one that is too close to call. Lib Dems will certainly want to make it a local campaign – to damage Labour – and Labour a national one – to damage the Lib Dems. This may well let the Tories come through the middle and claim victory.

    I note that there is a Green candidate standing, who did not stand at the GE and therefore could take off a vital few hundred votes off both Labour and the Lib Dems. This only benefits the Tories.

    The Conservatives have a good local, ethnic minority candidate who is likely to do as well (in terms of percentage) as the last general election, while Labour have just put in a new candidate who had stood for another constituency in May and going by her result, doesn’t seem like a strong candidate (in a Labour held seat she finished 3rd, losing 9% of the vote). This is all to play for.

    I wonder whether it will cause some fractions if the Tories win this by-election, one which the Lib Dems fought so hard just to be held. It may well give some Lib Dem MPs the realisation that maybe they are being perceived by the public as the “human shields” for the Tory cuts.

    I can’t see the Lib Dems gaining this, unless it’s a cold, snowy day, therefore causing a low turnout, in which case the Lib Dems will most likely take it. Prediction: Lab Hold but I would like to see a Tory gain!

  • Does anyone want to defend the Lib Dems moving the writ tomorrow?

  • david thorpe 15th Dec '10 - 11:41pm

    why on earth wouldnt the lib dems move the writ tomorrow.
    Obviously it couldnt be moved while the judicial process was ongoing, but if labour are at a disadvantage, then in the case of this bye election its one of their own making.

    I dont think the party can be confident of winning any seat anywhere from anyone right now, but at the same time ont he day of the tuition fee cote the party took seats from labour in cornwall and the tories in hampshire, so neither is it the case that the lib dems cant win

  • So David, if a Lib Dem seat were to become vacant, you would be happy if Labour or Tories, in breach of parliamentary convention moved the writ?

  • I suppose the fact that this move would ensure the by-election will be held before students at Huddersfield University return on the 17th is just a coincidence.

  • Man on the Bus 16th Dec '10 - 1:26am

    Unless they come back 4 days early. Heh heh heh…

  • Man on the Bus 16th Dec '10 - 1:30am

    “Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg are expected to visit the constituency during the campaign. ”

    Have they taken leave of their senses?

  • By the way to answer the question in the post about Christmas campaigning, the last by-election with the writ moved before Christmas for an election after Christmas was the 25th January 1986 Northern Ireland by-elections. Incidentally that was the last time the party that held the seat didn’t move the writ, as all shades of Ulster Unionist MPs had resigned, Sir Peter Emery (Con, Honiton) did it for them.

  • TheContinentalOp 16th Dec '10 - 9:02am

    Despise Woollas but the sense of panic around the Lib Dem campaign suggests a ‘gimme’ is anything but. This latest move seems strange. It’s designed to benefit the Lib Dems and not the people of constituency. It’s old politics and New Labouresque political opportunisim.

  • @Dave Page
    “Steve Way, if Labour members and supporters genuinely believe in AV, like they said in their manifesto, they’re not going to let the Lib Dems moving a writ “early” put them off.”

    From a Labour perspective I suppose that means if the Lib Dems genuinely believed in slower deficit reduction “like they said in their manifesto” they’re not going to let the Tories put them off, or trident, tuition fees etc etc… The argument on that basis would quickly decend into which party has broken which promises, as Labour are not in a position to keep any at this time they will win that game.

    The difference on these issues is that Labour has a new leader and a shadow cabinet elected by their MP’s. Milliband has expressed support but there is a genuine 50:50 split in their numbers. Some believe (as do many I’ve read on this blog) that AV is not truly proportional and therefore only likely to alter the balance between the “big three” rather than reflect voters wishes. Some just don’t want reform. You make the job of the latter easier in stopping local activists pushing for a yes vote.

    I say again, I hope Labour lose here, they deserve to. But fighting the fights that do not need to be fought will only harm the Lib dems.

    “as if their failure to back the referendum as a party didn’t make that clear”

    Which, in fairness to them, they offered to do if it were not linked to two other contentious issues, i.e. fixed term 5 year parliaments (which the Lords Constitutional Committee has just said are too long) and Boundary changes which are overtly party political.

    Again a great case of fighting the fights you do need to. If Clegg had split the issue he could have called Labour’s bluff. If they then had not supported it they would have looked the hypocrites, as it was he handed them an excuse.

    I genuinely believe that to win the referendum the Lib Dems have to prove that plural politics can work and can be less tribal. To do that they need to change the rules of the game and stop rising to bait or throwing their own bait around. Instead do what they used to do so well, win the argument with reasoned words and sensible actions.

  • @George Kendall
    “This isn’t a Labour seat. It’s a seat that Labour temporarily won using illegal campaigning. The court result means that it’s neither a Labour nor a Lib Dem seat.”

    Whilst I agree it was held by using corrupt methods, it was previously a Labour seat. Also the reason the convention is generally left alone is to allow the incumbent party to select a candidate and to get them known. My worry is this will open cart blanche for other parties to do likewise if they feel it gives an advantage. The original post stated clearly that as Elwyn is already known and only narrowly lost out in May an early election is to his advantage.

    What would be the position if, God forbid, an MP dies or has to step down due to ill health during the parliament. Any party that thought they had an advantage could move a writ as soon as it suited. Conventions need to be kept to avoid future missuse even where it grates to do so. As I stated in my response to Dave Page, why fight the fights that can be left. Actions taken now can be always be refered back to as a later excuse by others.

    It is in taking the reasonable consultative approach (in spite of what other parties do, rather than because of it) that shows there is a “new politics”. It is by showing the public that politics does not have to be so tribal (again i spite of other parties) that they will see the benefit of the third party involvement in Government.

    These actions are also made to seem a bit petty due to the Christmas break, the fact that critics are already pointing out that students will still be on holiday will only add to this (whatever the truth). There will be 9 effective days of local campaigning after the Christmas / New Year break and I think that sells everyone short. The previous example of an election over Christmas was caused by a mass resignation, meaning there was no one left of the incumbent party to move the writ.

  • Even if you take the view that as the election was ruled void, it is not covered by the convention, the last time an election was declared void (Winchester 1997), it was left to Paul Tyler to move the writ as Chief Whip of the incumbent party. The Lib Dems abided by the convention then, there was no arguments from the Tories that they should do it.

    It smells as if the only reason the Lib Dems wish to break the convention now is to maximise their chances of winning with students being away and an already well-established candidate in place.

    As I said at the top of the comments, I’m no fan of the convention as it can be abused, but Labour have not abused the convention in Old & Sad and this move feels grubby from the Lib Dems.

  • Moving the writ is what Sir Humphrey would have called brave. If we had waited for Labour to move the writ and we then lost, we would shrug our shoulders about our “temporary” unpopularity problem, and declaim that a grateful nation would eventually recognise that we had been right to take all the tough decisions, blah de blah. But now that we have insisted on throwing the first punch, we have very much raised our stake in the outcome of the fight. Losing will / would now become a much greater embarassment.

    Now, I quite agree that Woolas deserves his fate, and I quite agree that far too many in Labour have given him far too much support. However, Labour do not need to spin it like that. Here is the tale they could spin to win:

    “Two unprincipled rogues stood at the last election. One of them has rightly been thrown out by the courts. The other one is standing again, for the Lib Dems. He pledged not to raise tuition fees. Now, he and his party are supporting a massive and crippling rise in students’ fees! The law dealt with the first rogue. Now you, the voters, have the chance to deal with the second one.”

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '10 - 1:01pm

    @ andy

    breaing conventions and challenging conventional assumptions is wat radicals should support, I ave no proble with the writ being moved by anyone

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '10 - 1:02pm

    @ david

    have you any idea what way elyn would vote…
    not all lib dems supported the rise

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '10 - 1:03pm

    oh an was phil woolas part of he labour election team which said, in 2001 it would not intorduce fees and then did, and was e part of the team that said they wouldnt intorduce top up fees anfd then did?

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '10 - 1:05pm

    @ andy

    if we stalled the election it would be said that we were doiung that because we were afraid of the elcrtorate, and wen I went to Ui in Britain our term didnt start again till february, slo I dont know where you thin students will be, certainly there would be no reaosn for them to be at campus….
    and we we waited until february then they would certainly be away

  • David Allen 16th Dec '10 - 1:11pm


    Elwyn would have supported the rise, although he signed the pledge last May. I asked his campaign team and that’s what they told me.

  • david thorpe 16th Dec '10 - 1:29pm

    @ david

    fair enough…
    Im dissapointed to hear that, as I dont agree with those rebels in the party who voted to raise the fees, they are a large and significant minority….

  • david thorpe – what Phil Woolas said or did in 2001 has no relevance, he’s not a candidate in this by-election.

  • @David Thorpe, Labour did not introduce fees in the 2001-2005 Parliament, they introduced them in 2005, after a general election on which their about face could be voted on by the public, they also scraped through the legislation for that next parliament by five votes, despite Labour’s large majority, so it’s not quite the same as the Lib Dem, although it was undoubtedly a U-turn.

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