Does immigration move votes in the way UKIP thinks it it does?
Over the past few days I’ve had three conversations with people who were in Oldham for the by-election and which are the basis for this post which seeks to explain why we all got it so wrong. Just look at the PB competition forecasts or the betting history and you realise that it wasn’t meant to be a LAB victory with an increased majority.
Since September 12th the dominant story within the Westminster bubble has been Jeremy Corbynâ€™s performance as LAB leader and this was the prism through which Oldham, the first by-election of the 2015 parliament, was viewed. This was going to be his big test.
Farage and the UKIP team sought to build on this and shape a narrative that Labour was in trouble. LAB was out of touch with its core vote on things like immigration a situation made worse by the choice of leader. The election, it was deemed, was going to be close with UKIP being the beneficiary.
On the ground the purples had their usual high profile making their presence felt with lots of posters and leaflets going out. The sheer intensity of communications that you get in modern by-election meant that very few voters were unaware that an election was taking place.
Within the constituency the choice was seen not as whether they liked Corbyn but whether they wanted a UKIP MP or not. If they didn’t there was just one way to vote and that was LAB.
Many voters, I’m told, were motivated by the assumptions that UKIP, and the media, appeared to be making about them particularly in relation to immigration.
Given that Farage’s party along with the media were saying that the outcome was close then the imperative was to turnout, even in the bitter weather conditions in the town on the day. If you wanted to stop UKIP then you had to make damn sure that you voted. In the end the percentage was in excess of 40% which was very high for a by-election in a Labour heartland seat in the middle of winter.
On the day UKIP came so far behind Labour because its rhetoric on immigration didn’t resonate and might have alienated.