Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Daring to whisper the D word as I see reports from Oldham East and Saddlworth
The Liberal Democrats' chances of winning tomorrow's Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election were long ago written off by the media. Only thing is, somebody seems to have forgotten to tell local people.
I've seen enough reports, most recently from Andrew and Paul's been there too. The polls show that there's everything to play for.
Team Scotland has been out in force in Oldham over the last few days. My Facebook feed is filled with pictures of a buzzing HQ full of activists. I hear of us winning the poster war by some margin. I hear upbeat reports of a very warm and friendly reception on the doorsteps. I also have the experience of having spoken to enough voters by phone to see this for myself. I was actually shocked at how positive they were. I'd read the polls, you see, and I wasn't expecting to have virtually every single person tell me they were voting, or already had by post, for Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins.
I've seen many elections before which are very different to how they are reported in the media. My mind wanders back to almost exactly five years ago - in fact, I think it is exactly five years since we moved into our campaign HQ. There was absolutely no way, according to the press, that we had any chance of winning. The fight was between SNP and Labour and we had a nerve even thinking we had a chance, especially when we didn't have a leader and it seemed as though every half hour a new tabloid scandal engulfed one of our MPs. It was not the best national stage on which to fight a by-election, particularly one which had been caused by the untimely death of a well-liked and respected Labour MP.
Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody outside our own campaign HQ expected us to win. The weekend before the election a procession of journalists were guided round our offices to see the scale of our operation for themselves, but still nobody expected us to pull off a victory to the extent that the BBC's graphic for the first couple of news bulletins after the result showed the constituency coloured in red.
Seasoned campaigners, though, who have a nose for which way things are going, started to dare to think we could actually do it. After a very busy polling day, that I was sitting in the petrol station at Duloch Park in Dunfermline, when I took a phone call from an ecstatic friend who said we'd done it!
The moral of the story is that what's happening on the ground may not always fit with the narrative the media is trying to shape. I think that there's a similar thing going on in Oldham where people are utterly sick of the Labour Party. They have been lied to by the previous Labour MP, who tried to stir up racial tension in order to snatch victory for himself and his party, something neither Ed Miliband nor the current candidate have apologised for. They know fine that Labour's record in Government is nothing to be proud of, leaving the country with a huge economic mess, of ruining our international reputation by taking us into an illegal war in Iraq, making the gap between rich and poor even wider. They like Elwyn Watkins, they know that he'll fight hard for the area and they like the contribution that the Liberal Democrats are making in Government.
I'm not going to make any predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow, but I am sure that the final chapter of this story, unlike the mainstream media suggest, has not yet been written. Oldham East and Saddleworth may have more than beautiful scenery in common with Dunfermline and West Fife.