"What we failed to anticipate [in Merseyside in the late 1980s] was the 'radicalisation' of those who had previously given-up on politics or had never participated. Just as those in search of spiritual understanding are attracted by the simple messages of evangelism, so those angry and disenfranchised with society were attracted to the equally simplistic messages of Militant Tendency. Turnout in the polling stations with the highest levels of social inequality and unemployment almost doubled, swamping any additional tactical Tory votes from elsewhere. One by one the Tory seats fell - and with them control of Wirral Council. We have never controlled it since."
Last night's result in Oldham indicates that I might just have been right. Despite three months of torrid headlines and at the end of a week when he reinforced his image, at least to Middle Britain, as an "apologist for terrorists" Labour not only retained the Oldham West and Royton but did so with a 7% increase in vote share.
Labour's strategy is to me clear and obvious.
- Bank the 28% core vote
- Add 5% from the radical wing of the Greens and LibDems
- Add another 5% from the previously disenfranchised and disinterested
I have lived with militant politics and seen the effect its slogans have on people seeking simple answers to difficult questions. We might well be 10% ahead in the national polls, but slowly and steadily hundreds of thousands of previous non-voters are been politically re-engaged, and few (if any) of them are likely to vote for us. Coterminously the radical Left, which dissipated under New Labour, are being re-united for Corbyn.
We were never going to win Oldham West and Royton, but I suspect few of us would have predicted Labour's +7% swing. My concluding words in my 22 July post should ring a warning bell to us all:
"Should Jeremy Corbyn win it will be great for our Party in the leafy suburbs of West Kent and Surrey and Dorset - but these are the seats which Labour don't need to win and probably never will. The danger for us is in the dozens of constituencies which we win against Labour with the benefit of differential turnout. These are the constituencies which will decide the government - and these are the constituencies which almost certainly contain thousands of voters in search of the simple answers than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall won't provide but Jeremy Corbyn might."