Oldham West and Royton by-election

The candidates have been declared and the starting gun has been sounded, the first by-election of this parliamentary cycle has now begun.

Following the death of Labour MP, Michael Meacher, the Oldham West and Royton (OWAR) by-election represents the first electoral challenge for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party will be defending a near 14,738 vote majority. With his poll ratings sinking to an incredibly low -20%, Mr Corbyn will be hoping that a strong performance in the election will silence some of his critics. This also means there will be even more pressure on Labour candidate, Jim McMahon, the current Leader of Oldham Council, to secure the seat, and to do so convincingly, if possible.

The biggest challenge to Labour is expected to come from UKIP, which almost won the neighbouring constituency, Heywood and Middleton, from them in the 2014 by-election. Currently UKIP are second place in OWAR after securing just over 20% of the vote in May’s General Election. However, since then, both UKIP and its leader, Nigel Farage, have suffered, with bad poll ratings, infighting, and rumours of financial hardship haunting the party. The looming EU referendum will add even more focus on UKIP’s performance, as they look to start gaining early momentum in the run up for this defining vote. Flying the flag for the nationalists will be John Bickley, the candidate who ran Labour so close in Heywood and Middleton. Nigel Farage will be hoping he can go one better this time.

Perhaps surprisingly, the person with the least to lose in this election is David Cameron. In 2015, the Conservatives finished third in OWAR and are not expected to mount a serious challenge for the seat. Following the debacle over tax credits and the mishandling over the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister will no doubt appreciate a quiet period where his political rivals scrap it out leaving him to regroup and focus on forming his agenda for 2016. Perhaps more surprisingly the Conservative Party has selected Huddersfield-born, James Daly to contest the seat. Mr Daly achieved a second place in Bolton North East in 2015, meaning his selection in OWAR could signal an unlikelihood that he’ll fight the Bolton seat again.

OWAR will not offer any significant indications on how likely the various parties are to form the next Government. However, what it will show us is how successful Jeremy Corbyn has been in promoting his “new-politics” and how far behind, if at all, UKIP have fallen behind the pack.

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