Oldham West and media narratives: JezWeCan


The Economist’s current Bagehot fantasises over a rebellion of moderate liberals; local government in the form of Jim McMahon taking centre stage.

You quickly become aware that is it politics as usual when the Corbynites come out in full swing in the wake of the Oldham by-election. Apparently, under Corbyn’s influence, the constituency increased its Labour vote and is further proof (alongside his leadership bid) that Corbyn isn’t unelectable. There are a couple of things that are in equal measure both wrong and amusing about this analysis.

The most obvious and superficial is that McMahon is part of the 4.5% that supported Kendall. I’m not sure he can get any more centrist or Blairite than that. Until of course you realise that the Economist is complimentary towards him while scathing about Corbyn. See, e.g., article linked to in image caption. Another is that the campaign was apparently local-issue-focused with little mention of the grandiose, national visions espoused by the chosen one. Let alone his name or that many in Oldham even knew it to begin with. Corbyn wasn’t standing in this election. A local and well-loved Blairite was.

Related to this are the obvious traits of this constituency, most notably its demographics, the fact that is a tribally safe Labour seat and that the less than 20k or so that voted for McMahon (or “Corbyn” if we’re being generous) are representative of seats across the country (but especially marginals). It is quite odd to consider winning a safe seat as an achievement of the leadership. In sum, a grand total of <0.01% of the British electorate might be said to have “voted for Corbyn” here, but only, of course, if we chose to ignore a number of other factors and data. Or I guess simply if we like Corbyn and just believe hard enough that his (our?) dreams will come true.

The second is what making the argument that it was “Corbyn wot won it” involves on a more analytical level. As a reminder this is a movement that has a lot of resentment towards the media and its misleading narratives (though how could we forget given that most issues for them come back to this; astutely referred to in another blog as “The Worst Meme in Politics“). With Oldham, they claim that Corbyn, contrary to the (false) media narratives they decry, has actually risen above those falsehoods to demonstrate how electable he truly is.

If you think about it, this amounts to using a false media narrative to make their case because it is only relative to that pseudo-narrative that their argument makes any material sense. It was only on account of hype and media punditry that anyone seriously (and mistakenly) thought Oldham, with its excellent local candidate, was actually at risk to an outsider Kipper on account of the Corbyn brand. Now those false perceptions with regards the seat are being used to set up a contrast to make claims of electability. A contrast with a false narrative to put forward another one. Bizarro-world indeed.

Now, had it turned out to be a (really) bad day for Labour, losing an incredibly safe seat, this would definitely have been more attributable to Corbyn. Emphasis on the “more” because this is a hypothetical and a number of other factors would need to be looked at had that event occurred. Naturally to the partisan this may seem hypocritical — if Corbyn can be held to have lost it, he can be held to have won it. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t quite follow in the circumstances here.

For those looking for bit more information, there’s a more detailed analysis on the implications (or rather, lack there of) of this result here.

NB Oldham was a few weeks ago, but I have only just gotten around to fleshing this out now over the holiday season.



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