The Times’ advice to voters in Oldham: “They should vote Lib Dem.”

by Stephen Tall on January 6, 2011

Well, here’s a bit of a turn-up… While the Lib Dems’ erstwhile friends, the Guardian and Independent, take delight in stilettoing the party, The Times has come out in support of the Lib Dems’ Elwyn Watkins in next week’s Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.

No link, I’m afraid — blame the paper’s paywall — but here’s an excerpt the final line of which I imagine will find its way onto a few Lib Dem leaflets over the next seven days:

A Labour victory in Oldham might lead the party, quite wrongly, to think itself on the right course when, in fact, it is not on a course at all. … But there is a more positive reason for hoping that Labour is deprived of the victory that it expects in Oldham. It is that courage and public-spirited service deserve their reward.

And this motive tempts The Times to offer readers who have a vote in Oldham advice that we have never offered before. They should vote Lib Dem.

Many minor-party by-election upsets have been fuelled by protest votes. Nick Clegg’s party is attempting the opposite trick: a minor-party upset fuelled by admiration for showing a sense of responsibility and for a willingness to take tough decisions in Government.

It is true that potential Liberal Democrat supporters in Oldham East & Saddleworth are no longer being offered an anti-establishment rebellion against the political system. But they are being offered the candidate
of a party with real influence, which has used that influence to advance policies it believes in.

In practice, the Conservatives cannot win this by-election, which has become a two-party battle. It would be better for Oldham and the country if the Liberal Democrats were to win it.

So enthusiastic and well-timed is the endorsement it’s enough to make you think that influential folk well-connected to the Tory-supporting paper have suggested the editorial line would be a politically savvy move. Perish the thought.

Elywn Watkins has welcomed the paper’s support:

“I am proud to see that The Times has endorsed our campaign for Oldham East and Saddleworth. As they say, Phil Woolas’ campaign was disreputable and Labour does not deserve to retain a seat in which they preyed on racial tensions.

“I am campaigning locally on things that matter to residents and by showing I am able to make difficult decisions. Labour are here with no answers, no regrets and no apologies.

“We offer the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth a party with real influence, which we have used to advance policies we believe in: helping pensioners, raising the income tax threshold and putting extra money into our schools through the pupil premium.”

The Times has done its bit: will you do yours? To find out how you can help Elwyn’s campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth click here.