Saturday, May 21, 2005
Oldham? Labour held 'em...
If you subscribe to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme's weekly e-newsletter, you will have read this election analysis (issued 10th May), written by political reporter Iain Watson:
I over-estimated the Lib Dems' number of seats, though not by much. I thought they would get 65, not 62. But again I didn't expect a major breakthrough. Why? Well, I was going to say far be it for me to tell the party strategists how to do their job... but since many of them have spent the campaign telling broadcasters precisely how to do ours, here goes.[You can listen here to Iain Watson's report from Oldham East, originally broadcast on Today on 3rd May.]
The Lib Dems were keen to get a 'Portillo moment' by decapitating (their language, not mine) a prominent Conservative and indeed they succeeded in dispatching the shadow education spokesman Tim Collins in Westmorland and Lonsdale. But while they poured resources into Folkestone and Hythe, the sitting MP Michael Howard, increased his vote. They failed similarly to oust Oliver Letwin, Theresa May and David Davis.
Many of the seats the Lib Dems had to take to make significant gains were from the Conservatives, but while voters were still far from keen to see a Tory government, they were far more keen to give Tony Blair, not Michael Howard, 'a bloody nose'.
If people were still electing Conservative MPs in seats where the Lib Dems were second in the darkest days of William Hague's leadership in 2001 then what possible incentive was there to protest against a Labour government now by switching to the Lib Dems? Yet with a bit of an extra push in some Labour held seats, the Lib Dems, as a receptacle for protest votes, could have increased their tally.
They were fewer than 500 votes away from victory in the seat vacated by Chris Smith, Islington South, and taking it would have provided them with a significant symbol of their strength against a weakened New Labour brand.
And Charles Kennedy didn't visit the Lab/LD marginal that was eleventh on his target list, Oldham East and Saddleworth. The local candidate told me his leader was too busy visiting less winnable sets. And guess what? Labour held on.