Sunday 16 January 2011

A Note on the Oldham East Turnout

I might be late to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election commentary party, but there's something I'd like to add about the turn out (see Boffy for a wider analysis, and Andy on Ed Miliband's subsequent love bombing of the LibDems).

I've come across the odd Tory or two trying to rubbish the
wide margin by which Labour held the seat. Their argument goes that a majority of 3,558 is hardly encouraging when turnout was down to 48% from the 61% of the general election (if this should be a sobering result for Labour what does a feeble 4,481 votes mean for them?). But the Tories do have a point, don't they? Should a 13% fall in turnout be cause for concern?

Not really. Political science distinguishes between first and second order elections. The first order are taken more seriously by the electorate at large and refer to general and presidential elections. i.e. Those determining the political colours of a national government. Second order is every sort of election below this level. Falling into this category in the UK are the Scottish parliament, Welsh, Northern Ireland, and London assembly elections, European elections, local elections, referendums and by-elections. In the eyes of the electorate these tend not to matter so much and therefore turnout is invariably depressed compared with general elections. To illustrate, turnout at the May 2010 general election was 65.1%. Elections for the devolved governments were 51.8% for Scotland and 43.7% for Wales in 2007 (Northern Ireland saw a turnout of 62.1% - reflecting the higher levels of politicisation in the province). The 2008 London Assembly election saw 45.3% and at 2009's European elections it was only 34%.

Therefore attaching any kind of significance to a by-election result depends in large measure on how its turnout compares with other second order elections. In Oldham East and Saddleworth's case its 48% holds up very well in comparison to recent mainland Britain elections. The same is true of the by-elections fought during the last Parliament. In reverse order the last five before May 2010 were Glasgow North East (33%), Norwich North (46%), Glenrothes (52%), Glasgow East (42%), Haltemprice and Howden (34.5%).

It stands to reason the strengthening of Labour's support in Oldham reflects the wider turn to the party reported in poll after poll - whatever grumbling Tories might think.


Unknown said...

I live in this constituency and for the first time I noticed pubs with banners displayed prominently beside the pub signs. Along one of the roads from Shaw to Oldham, they were nearly all for UKIP with one Lib-Dem. I wonder if these landlords think that Al Murray is an actual pub landlord?

Boffy said...


Quite right, and compared with the average turnouts for US presidential Elections, which are often only in the 30-40% range, this is a very good turnout. The only other point I'd make is one that links in with Lawrence's post about the Tories kite flying about new anti-union laws, and which fits with the comments I made in my own blog post Boris's Big Idea, on that subject a few months ago. That is that as Marxists we should not be leaving this ground to the Tories to occupy. The reality is that if the Tories got what they say they desire it would mean they were in deep shit.

If 100% of people turned out voluntarily to take part in Elections, it would almost certainly be due to the fact that the left had eventually been able to mobilise them around something worthwhile. If 100% of people took an active part in their Trades Unions, and voted for action, it would mean the same thing, and Capitalism would be in its last days, because it would not be able to withstand such a movement. In the words of marx, it would mean we had "won the battle of democracy".

It is nearly always the case that the Tories latch on to a weakness, and exploit it. During the 1960's,and 70's you can see in the writing of Poulantzas, Miliband and others, and in the work of people like the London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, a good example of the Left's attitude towards the oppressive, bureaucratic, inefficient nature of the Capitalist State, and how to fight it. Yet, when Thatcher began the attack against it in the 1980's, that theoretical understanding of the State, which came out of the workers experience of the State, was essentially discarded. It meant that on practical issues such as Council House sales, the Left was disarmed. Stuck trying to defend the indefensible, rather than putting forward a socialist alternative, the left found itself isolated as workers lined up with Thatcher to buy their houses, just as workers in Eastern Europe without a progressive alternative lined up with the Capitalists against Stalinism.

For years the Left had spoken out against the lack of democracy in the Trades Unions, but did little to actually bring it about. Once again, Thatcher stepped in.

A repeat performance is on the cards. We should oppose with all our might any intervention of the State into the Labour Movement, but the best means of achieving that is to work out how to bring about mass involvement of workers itself.

Phil said...

This was one thing that attracted to me to the cpgb back in the day - their emphasis on putting democracy at the heart of socialist politics. I cannot disagree with a word you've said here, Boffy.

Gary Elsby said...

Don't you think a ticketape paradae is a little over the top for a Labour victory in Labour stronghold Oldham with Tories in power?

Phil said...

Oldham East and Saddleworth is not a Labour stronghold. At the last election it was a three way marginal and before that it was not a safe seat. See here.

Gary Elsby said...

I don't find it hard to fathom that in every election since its creation, Labour has won it and has now won it again.

The special selections apnel wanted Abrahams to win it, the CLP had no say in shortlisting who they really wanted and Ed is on record HERE IN STOKE ON TRENT that the special selections panel was wrong.
Until they picked Debs, that is.

More details in the Documentary:
BBC2 26th January 2011 9pm.

Duncan said...


I heard a rumour that UKIP had done a deal with some of the breweries to put in place measures like distributing UKIP beer mats in pubs they own. The banners may not be a genuine reflection of landlord's sympathises.

Chris said...

Tend to agree with the post, right wing populism isn't that popular after all but what do the Tories care about democracy? They probably laugh over that concept while sharing cocktails at the Bullingdon club dinner dance.

"I cannot disagree with a word you've said here, Boffy."

Well let me have ago. I deal with the elements of Boffy's comment that really have nothing to do with this article, just to highlight that I am not the one to derail the thread!

It isn’t just the capitalist state that is inefficient, capitalism is inefficient. Twenty thousand different varieties of Shampoo all produced by the private sector is inefficient, countless useless products that serve no need but claim that they do on the label is inefficient, yet we are told this is all freedom of choice and the workers buy into that. But to be honest we have to be careful about what is and isn’t inefficient don’t we? On the one hand we may end up with a society that curtails innovation of products and on the other we may end up with public services that are value for money, or shit but cheap to put it another way.

But some socialists have decided to tail Noel Edmonds in their obsession with inefficient local services, this plays into the Tories hands and their FRONT LOADED assault on it. A more objective sober look at local provision is needed, rather than sweeping statements about the inefficient oppressive capitalist state. And singling out the capitalist state for special treatment is another mistake, I will give an example. Boffy says “Thatcher began the attack against it in the 1980's, that theoretical understanding of the State, which came out of the workers experience of the State, was essentially discarded” But workers hold the NHS in high regard and have a great deal of affection for it but this doesn’t stop some socialists (Boffy) saying the workers experience and opinion of the NHS is wrong and a better way is possible. Nothing wrong with that, just also apply that method to private capitalism and its inefficiencies.

Phil said...

Gary, you were promising a cutting expose of Stoke Central shenanigans. And yet all I see is a documentary about the influence of public school old boys in society. Could it be your contribution is limited to a ten second soundbite?

Btw, are you planning on standing for election this year?

Gary Elsby film star said...

I will probably stand this year as this Council needs to go.
I'm offended that Labour and Labour members stand side by side with each other with nothing between them.

The documentary is about how friends put friends into positions of influence.

My contribution is that the only political party on earth that doesn't do this (ho ho ho) is the Labour Party and I have a rule book to prove it.
Take it from the person who named the programme (posh and posher) that Stoke Central Labour CLP and all who sail in her are mentioned.

What they do in the editing room has nothing to do with me.

Phil said...

Gary, did you have similar principled objections to Mark Fisher when he was MP for Stoke Central? He was after all from a very privileged background and held the distinction of being the only Eton old boy on the Labour benches.

Gary Elsby said...

Do you mean Mark Fisher who was a County Councillor in Leek for a number of years and then went through a detailed long-list and short-list selection process by CLP Officers, who then went on to parade before a hustings with many dedicated and intelligent Socialists and then won the vote?

No, not at all.

I hope you aren't confusing this with any of Mandelson's mates.