UK Politics

Labour by-election success a timely boost for Miliband

Image caption Concerns about Ed Miliband's electoral appeal will be allayed by the result

Statistics, historical comparisons and memories of electoral shocks gone by often dominate the aftermath of by-elections.

But cut through all that and let's look at what actually happened in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.

Labour did more than hold the seat. The campaign team were surprised and delighted that they achieved a majority bigger than they achieved here in 1997 - although for the real sticklers, the seat was slightly different back then.

Labour fears that the party, under Ed Miliband, couldn't win will have been somewhat eased.

Andy Burnham, who took the lead on the ground in the campaign, was clearly delighted. But he acknowledged it would be "wrong to read too much into" the result.

Lib Dem relief

Yet David Cameron last week accused Ed Miliband of being a "nothing man" - it won't be so easy for him to make those jibes any more.

And, for the Liberal Democrats, meltdown was avoided. In fact, the Lib Dem share of the vote went up, albeit by a tiny margin. This result bucked the national polling that has suggested their reputation has been hammered by the difficulties of government.

The Lib Dems were massively relieved here. But clearly, their days as a party of protest scooping up by-election victories have truly gone.

So it appears coalition worries about the result were about the wrong party.

Image caption Questions are likely to be asked about the Conservative campaign

Despite a good local candidate who had been quietly effective, the slump in the Tories' vote was big, and unexpectedly so.

Tory worries

Yes, it's true that the party that lies in third place often gets squeezed in a by-election.

But a fall of more than 7,000 votes was surprisingly large.

The candidate and his campaign manager, Andrew Stephenson MP, appear to have made a valiant effort but there was little evidence of the full force of the Conservative central office machine here despite David Cameron's well publicised visit.

Even at the count, Mr Stephenson wasn't joined by any other MPs or ministers and was left to answer questions about the party's fall in support on his own. It appears it wasn't the Lib Dems who were punished for being in the coalition, but the Conservatives instead.

Mr Cameron's backbenchers may have tricky questions for him that he did not expect. And with another two by-elections expected in the spring, the Conservatives will need to find answers and fast.

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