What will an emphatic victory do for his leadership?
Parliamentary by-elections are generally a good thing for leaders under a bit of pressure. For in the run-up to such important electoral tests even the most dissident members of their own parties tend to hold their tongues.
No one wants to be accused of saying or doing anything that could undermine their chances.
So if today’s court announcement in the Phil Woolas case does open the door to an early contest then it’s probably good news, in the short-term at least, for both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. After that it all depends on the result.
And for Ed Miliband a by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth provides the platform for him to demonstrate to his party and the wider Westminster village he is an election winner. An emphatic victory in line with current polls would be an ideal start to 2011.
A contest in this Pennines seat in the middle of winter will test the resolve of activists on all sides and that could be critical. For turnout is likely to be on the low side which puts a premium on the ability of a party to get its vote out.
A key decision for Labour will be the candidate that’s chosen. My guess is that that has already been resolved and all will be revealed very soon after the trigger is pulled. Ideally the red team wants someone with strong local connections who was not associated in any way with the discredited May general election campaign.
In May the Lib Dems were just 103 votes short with the Tories not too far behind.
Everything depends on today’s court ruling. It could be, who knows, that Phil Woolas is deemed to still be the MP which might cause a problem for Labour given the comments by Harriet Harman.
In the betting the best price you can get on Labour is 2/7 with William Hill offering 8/1 on both the Lib Dems and the Tories.