Should we consider not standing in Oldham East and Saddleworth this time?
Before comrades accuse me of all kinds of things let me explain my logic.
If our reputation is not shot to pieces by the whole Woolas affair then one questions what it would take to ruin it. Indeed, Labour is going to suffer either way and is in serious danger of seeing its vote squeezed due to the ‘Woolas effect’ as this report of campaigning from LabourList indicates:
I’m not going to pretend, in time-honoured #labourdoorstep style, that that was the reception I got at every single door: the vast majority were very friendly, but some people told us they’d voted Tory at the general election; some told us they weren’t sure about voting Labour again; some felt Phil Woolas had been hard done by; some thought he’d been an idiot.
Both supporters of Woolas and his detractors are likely to punish Labour and my gut feeling is that we will struggle to retain this seat. Ontop of all this I rather suspect the CLP will be divided in a similar way so whether it will be able to select the candidate needed is open to question. If we must stand then it must be somebody local; ideally a local Labour politician who has a strong reputation for integrity. However, whether even that is enough would be highly questionable and I think, unlike the bookmakers, we are clear underdogs in this seat. Working from that assumption the question then has to be is it worth the risk standing?
Losing this by-election, especially if it was to the Liberal Democrats (which is likely to my mind, given the sympathy that is likely to exist for the defeated Lib Dem candidate), might end up changing the the national political narrative. Of course, that would be to ignore the exceptional circumstances that would allow this victory but in the grand scheme of things that is barely the point. It might open up early questions about Ed Miliband’s leadership as well. Is one seat worth all of this? I would suggest the Parliamentary arithmetic suggests not.
If reports are true that an anti-Coalition Liberal Democrat may be standing I wonder if, strategically, our best chance of inflicting damage on the Coalition is to allow them a free hand this time around. This would allow us time to regroup and rebuild a reputation that has been tarnished by the activities of Woolas and to come roaring back come the next General Election.