Susan Press, Chair Calder Valley CLP (personal capacity), reports on the by-election in Oldham.
WITHIN DAYS OF THE SHOCK ANNOUNCEMENT of Michael Meacher’s death, only months after winning Oldham West and Royton with a 14,738 majority, the race began for his replacement as Labour candidate.
Potential candidates had only days to submit CVs and selection by the threestrong NEC panel was – as ever – a brutally swift process. One of the first to declare was centrist Oldham council leader Jim McMahon OBE – from the off, the hot favourite given his local track record in the community. The ‘freeze date’ rules also meant that only party activists with more than six months membership would make up the electorate. An early shot across the bows by former Stafford PPC Kate Godfrey, who has spent a lot of time on social media criticising the new Corbyn leadership, came to nothing.
The final shortlist included local candidates McMahon and Mohammed Azam, a former Oldham councillor and NEC member on the CLGA slate. Christian Aid worker and ex-PPC Jane East, who failed to win nearby Colne Valley in May, was another contender. The fourth was ex-MP Chris Williamson, narrowly defeated in Derby North by just 41 votes and one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal supporters. Given the timescale, it was always going to be a long shot that a left candidate would stand a chance of winning the selection – especially as there were two left candidates. There were rumours that Williamson would withdraw – which in hindsight might have been a wise move. With little time, and despite support from the unions and grassroots and coverage in the Morning Star, he was eliminated in the first run-off with a mere 17 votes.
Jim McMahon won overwhelmingly, with 232 votes to Azam’s 141. This is already being spun as a ‘defeat’ for the left by the Blairite rump of ‘moderates’ but it reflects more the clear desire by the CLP to go with a safe pair of hands – and a local candidate who stood the best chance of seeing off the UKIP threat from John Bickley.
It is already clear that the result will be seen by a hostile media as a clear indicator of Jeremy Corbyn’s support nationally. Neighbouring CLPs and activists will therefore be doing their utmost to ensure the seat is retained by Labour on December 3 – even if another candidate might have been our preferred choice in maintaining Meacher’s legacy in the seat he had held since 1970.
» Labour’s campaign centre for Oldham West and Royton is at The Humdinger pub, 227 Middleton Road, Chadderton, Oldham OL9 6JR and it is open every day from 9.30am until 7pm.