The result in Oldham came as a surprise to Blairite Labour MPs and to many commentators. The Labour party vote surged as a percentage of the total, to an impressive 62%. UKIP, in second place at the General election, rose considerably less and ended further behind in percentage terms than in May. The Conservative vote was squeezed by the rise of the first and second placed candidates. As Labour was on more than 62% of the vote their victory did not rest on the disposition of the other party votes. The others came nowhere.
It is an interesting result against the news background of the last few weeks. High levels of migration have been prominent, and more recently the terrorist attacks in France and the debate and vote to bomb Syria have dominated the headlines. Blairite Labour will point out that Labour had a local candidate who was well known and popular, who campaigned on local issues. However, the electors of Oldham like the rest of us would mainly have seen, heard and read about the big national and international events, and would have been aware of the big split in Labour over bombing Syria. Clearly Mr Corbyn was not as unpopular as many pretend, and his opposition to the Syrian bombing did not annoy many voters in Oldham.
Mr Farage was asked to comment on the results yesterday morning. He alleged voting irregularities in the postal ballot. We need to see what evidence UKIP has. At lunch time we were told no official complaint has yet been made, but presumably one with proper evidence will follow. As the BBC pointed out, even in the extreme and ridiculous case that all postal votes were false and had to be cancelled Labour would still have won.They should also have said no voting fraud is acceptable whether it succeeded or failed.
The government has attempted to tackle the possibility of voting abuse by moving to a system of individual voter registration. Every Returning Officer department of each principal Council has to compile a register of voters based on an individual establishing their identity and residence to the satisfaction of the authorities. They are open published lists, so neighbours, political parties and others interested can always check and challenge if there are irregularities.
It is not electoral fraud for an individual to be advised by a parent or spouse or other relative in their household on how to vote, and the state cannot make individual voters come to their own decisions if they do not wish to. The state can and must ensure that every adult has their own voter registration, and has the chance to vote in person in a secret ballot at the polling station, or in private with their own postal vote form if they choose. It is clearly an electoral offence for another person to vote on someone’s behalf without their authorisation, to impersonate another, to print and fill in false additional ballot papers or to pre-empt and fill in a postal ballot form of someone they live with.
All campaigning members of political parties should know the rules, and have to say to anyone who asks for help filling in a postal ballot that they cannot do so for obvious reasons.