Labour Party candidate Jim McMahon won the Oldham West and Royton by-election in the UK, the first parliamentary electoral contest in the nation since old-school socialist Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party following his decisive September 2015 win with nearly 60% of the vote of participating Labour Party members.
The by-election was closely watched. Given the unpopularity of Mr. Corbyn among a surprisingly large number of Labour Members of Parliament (MPs), and given the rather broad but highly speculative consensus among political commentators that Labour under Mr. Corbyn could not win a General Election because Corbyn's views are too left-wing, UK politicos thought McMahon would likely fail to increase Labour's majority in the constituency. Some predicted he would lose it. The results were otherwise, as The Independent summarized:
Despite widespread speculation that Labour’s more socially conservative, white working-class base would defect to Ukip [the UK Independence Party] because of Mr Corbyn’s peacenik policy positions, candidate Jim McMahon increased the party’s share of the vote to a commanding 62.1 percent – a majority of 10,722.
Does the Oldham West result mean Corbyn is not a liability to Labour's nationwide electoral chances?
Some say yes. Some say no. I say it doesn't speak to such a question either way. It's simply too soon after Corbyn's victory and too much an isolated electoral result.
But those who see in McMahon's victory a ringing endorsement of Mr. Corbyn read too much into the victory, I believe.
McMahon's win was a victory for McMahon.
Mr. Corbyn went virtually unmentioned by McMahon's campaign. McMahon is a local lad, well liked and proven as leader of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council to which he was elected in 2003 at the age of 28. He's an OBE, appointed for "services to the community in Oldham" (and will be invested by The Queen on the 18th of December). Also, he's to Corbyn's right on various issues; he's generally seen as a moderately pro-business Labourite.
The most that can be said relative to Corbyn and the Oldham West win is that he did McMahon less harm than many suspected he would. But even the left-leaning Guardian reported:
Canvassers reported voters slamming doors in their faces, angry after Corbyn suggested the US military was wrong to kill Isis terrorist Mohammed Emwazi (he should have faced trial, said Corbyn) and then, three days after the Paris attacks, saying UK police should not have a “shoot to kill” policy for known terrorists.
Was Corbyn an energizing influence on Labour voters? Perhaps. But it is also possible that John Bickley and James Daly, the UKIP and Conservative candidates, underwhelmed their parties' loyalists, thereby dampening their turnout slightly. (The other three candidates in the race even with combined vote totals failed to achieve 5%.)
To say Corbyn did Jim McMahon no great harm is not necessarily faint praise given some of the dire predictions for Labour's performance. But, I believe that no one should see the Oldham by-election result as conclusive evidence that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership did Mr. McMahon any great favor, either.