I JUST went into the kitchen and found Nigel Farage having a right old moan. Thankfully, he was on the radio and not standing there in spittle-flecked person.
Labour won yesterday’s byelection in Oldham West and Royton because of postal voting and multiculturalism. That’s what the Ukip leader was saying. Without those two twists of electoral fate, he would clearly be in Downing Street himself.
Farage says that Ukip will be making an official complaint about the rise in postal voting, and the way this affected the result. Well, we shall wait and see on that one. But Ukip always have a ready-made excuse for an election going wrong.
For some reason when I look at Ukip I think of the Flat Earth Society and its views about our planet being a flat disc rather than a globe.
“So, Mr Farage, you have now walked all the way round the Earth and come back to where you started. So the Earth can’t be flat, can it? If it was you’d have fallen off the edge.”
“Ah, well, you see the Earth is naturally biased against Ukip. That edge is out there somewhere. And we shall keep looking until we find it. Multiculturalism is to blame, of course.”
“What all those people who arrive here from around the very round globe?”
“Ah, yes precisely. If it wasn’t for multiculturalism the Earth would indeed be flat.”
And so on until Nigel Farage’s face becomes as purple as his party’s lurid branding.
Ukip failed to live up to their loud-mouthed promise and Labour won the byelection with an increased share of the vote, racing ahead of Ukip with a 10,000 majority. This is good news for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who has just passed his first electoral test – and good news for his party too.
It is hardly an unexpected result, hardly big news in ordinary times, but it does allow Corbyn to keep the political plates spinning.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to draw from this result isn’t connected to party politics at all. Yes, Jim McMahon, the 35-year-old leader of Oldham council, is a strong Labour man – but more importantly he is a solidly local man. People in the constituency know and respect him, and see that he has striven to improve life in the area. So much better than parachuting in a candidate favoured by London – and this point applies to all parties, not only Labour.
Ukip’s candidate John Bickley is described as a Cheshire-based businessman: and so is only local up to a point some comfortable miles away. Mr Bickley has now come second in four contests in Greater Manchester – three byelections and in May’s general election.
That many second places suggests he will win eventually, like those drivers who have multiple goes at their test.
Jim McMahon has a good personal story, having pulled himself up from a disadvantaged start in life. He also seems to be good at politics, at least locally. That is something Corbyn’s Labour Party could use.
Being good at politics isn’t perhaps a praiseworthy quality, but it is a necessary one in terms of survival. In the early days, Tony Blair’s New Labour was very good at politics, and now the Conservatives are the ones who best understand the game. You only have to look at George Osborne’s mini-budget last month to realise that; and to be reminded that Corbyn’s Labour Party is very bad at politics, or at least as conducted in the Westminster bear-pit.
Many forceful points could have been made in the post-statement debate about what Osborne and Cameron are doing to the country. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell flunked that task. Instead he let the Tories off the hook with a self-defeating joke involving Mao’s Little Red Book.
Being good at politics might be a cheap art, but Labour needs to hone those skills. Or else we will be stuck with either one or both of Cameron and Osborne for a depressingly long time.