By-election test in Oldham

oldham1On January 13th 2011 the ruling Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition will face its first serious electoral test in the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election.

While Prime Minister David Cameron, his Deputy Nick Clegg, and newly elected Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, are seen by the mainstream media as locked in a three-way gladiatorial contest, Oldham East & Saddleworth may be even more interesting as the final chapter in the history of the BNP, and a turning point in nationalist politics.

The circumstances of the by-election indicate the special status of Oldham as the frontline of England’s racial divisions. At the General Election on May 5th last year most political pundits expected Labour’s Phil Woolas to lose to the Liberal Democrats. Woolas was the hapless immigration minister in Gordon Brown’s government, and had repeatedly faced public humiliation, first over his government’s failure to control illegal immigration and abuse of the asylum process, and latterly after the much hyped dispute over the immigration status of Gurkha veterans.

Ever since Tony Blair’s illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, Labour had lost significant numbers of Muslim votes to the Liberal Democrats. This contributed to a sensational defeat at the Brent East by-election in September 2003 and heavy losses at local council elections. At the 2005 general election Muslim groups explicitly targetted certain pro-war and pro-Israel Labour MPs, notably Lorna Fitzsimons in Rochdale, who lost her seat to Liberal Democrat Paul Rowen on a 7.7% swing.

Rochdale councillor Elwyn Watkins was then selected to take on Woolas in the neighbouring Oldham East & Saddleworth constituency, and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee saw Woolas as the next pro-war, pro-Israel target. Woolas responded vigorously with a highly personalised anti-Watkins campaign, labelling the Liberal Democrats as the allies of Islamist extremists.

Labour's anti-Islamist leaflets were ruled illegal by an election court in 2010

Labour's anti-Islamist leaflets were ruled illegal by an election court in 2010

The result was a narrow and unexpected Labour victory by 103 votes. Paradoxically Woolas had benefited both from his anti-Islamist leaflets rallying White Oldhamers, and from a nationwide swing back to Labour among some Muslim voters, who did not hold Gordon Brown and his ministers personally to blame for the disgraceful Iraq policy to anything like the extent they had blamed Blair.

Elwyn Watkins wasn’t prepared to accept this defeat and petitioned an election court, claiming that Woolas had lied about him in Labour’s leaflets and breached the Representation of the People Act. The election court agreed, ousting Woolas in the first judgment of its kind since the election of Irish Home Rule MP Richard Hazelton was overturned in 1911.

So Oldham was faced by a multiple paradox: a Labour MP was ousted for fighting a deceptive and quasi-“racist” campaign and the Liberal Democrats forced a re-run of the poll in circumstances which had been transformed since last May. Having fought the general election with a radical appeal to protest voters, and pitching particularly for the support of Muslims (with the most anti-Zionist stance of any mainstream party) and students (with a solemn pledge to abolish university tuition fees), the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins is now the standard bearer for a party which is in government as part of a coalition with the Conservatives – Europe’s most pro-Zionist government – and proposing not to abolish but to treble tuition fees!

And what of the nationalist challenge in Oldham, which had once grabbed the attention of the world’s press? Check back later for Part Two of this article…

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