Landale online: Oldham by-election is real conundrum
In the old days, by-elections were so simple.
They were a chance for voters to give the government of the day a kicking.
If the government lost, ministers would intone solemnly that they would listen more closely to the voice of electors and then wait for the news cycle to move on. And if they won, they would tell us what a marvellous campaign they had fought.
Well, it is not quite so simple in Oldham East and Saddleworth.
For a start, voters here are spoilt for choice.
They could, for example, use their vote to protest against not the government but Her Majesty's Official Opposition.
They could vote against Labour over the way the former MP Phil Woolas lied about his opponent during the general election.
They could vote against Labour for the way the courts and the party treated Phil Woolas, who was a popular local MP. They could vote against Labour because they may be unimpressed with Ed Miliband's new leadership.
And what of the government? How can voters protest against a coalition that is represented by no one party?
Well people will just have to choose one party to blame for something.
They could vote against the Liberal Democrats for raising tuition fees or, more broadly, for daring to get into bed with the Conservatives. They could even vote against the Liberal Democrats for foisting the hoopla of a by-election on people here so soon after a general election.
Or people could cast their vote in protest at the Conservatives, choosing perhaps to blame them specifically for cutting public spending or raising VAT and fuel duty.
So much for the negative motives in some voters' minds. What of the positives?
Well some people may vote Labour because Gordon Brown is no longer prime minister, because they think they and not the courts should determine elections, because they are just Labour and always have been.
Some people will vote Lib Dem because their candidate, Elwyn Watkins, has fought a battle for justice in the courts and won, or because he has been campaigning hard for the last seven months and is well known.
Others will vote Conservative because they were impressed by the way Kashif Ali increased the party's vote in May, or because they are former Lib Dem voters who may vote tactically for the Tories now if they think they have a better chance of keeping Labour out.
In other words, this by-election is complicated.
It has cross-cutting issues and agendas, and few here are predicting the outcome with certainty.
Those who have been watching this campaign day by day - unlike we national media who just drop in for the odd visit - sense that the Lib Dem vote is unenthusiastic but not tanking, that the Tories might have done better if they had campaigned harder at the beginning, and that Labour are more nervous than they ought to be.
In other words, unless one issue begins to dominate in the last few days, unless one party does something stupid, this by-election could be close.
And as ever, if it is raining as hard next week as it has been this week up here, then none of the issues above will be as important as which party can get enough staff and cars together to get its voters out of their warm homes on the Saddleworth moors and into their rain-swept polling stations.
The full list of candidates (in alphabetical order) is:
- Debbie Abrahams (Labour)
- Derek Adams (British National Party)
- Kashif Ali (Conservative)
- Peter Allen (Green Party)
- David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party)
- The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party)
- Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom)
- Stephen Morris (English Democrats)
- Paul Nuttall MEP (UK Independence Party)
- Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats)