Case study: Oldham
Numbers: Labour 40, Conservatives 8, Lib Dems 3, Failsworth Independent Party 3, Independents 2.
Change since last local elections: Labour -6, Conservatives +4, Failsworth Independent Party +2
All out or thirds: Thirds
Background: Oldham Council was formed in 1974 and has been a unitary authority since 1985. Labour has dominated but the Conservatives were in control from 1978-1980 and the Lib Dems from 2000-2002. A large Lancastrian town, Oldham prospered with textile production during the industrial revolution – apart from a difficult period when supplies of raw cotton from the United States were cut off, as part of protectionist tactics during the American civil war. Former MPs for Oldham include Winston Churchill – who won the seat for the Conservatives in 1900 and held it until 1906. He defected to the Liberal Party in 1904. An earlier MP was William Cobbett, a Radical and author of Rural Rides.
In more recent times, the Oldham West constituency was held by Michael Meacher for Labour for many years. After boundary changes, we currently have Oldham West and Royton, which was held for Labour at the last election by Jim McMahon, the Shadow Transport Secretary, with a majority of 11,000. But the result in Oldham East and Saddleworth was much closer – with Labour holding the seat by 1,503. (Further proposed boundary changes create some uncertainty.) The Ashton-under-Lyne constituency, represented by Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, also includes a couple of wards from Oldham.
Results: The local elections were controversial due to claims of failings by the Council involving child sexual exploitation – including cover ups and corruption. There have been claims of electoral fraud and counter claims of smears and extremism. Oldham Council already awaits an independent review into “historical safeguarding practice.” An earlier review covering Greater Manchester more widely has already been held. It said:
“There was clear evidence that professionals at the time were aware the young people were being sexually exploited and that this was perpetrated by a group of older Asian men. There was significant information known at the time about these men’s names, their locations and telephone numbers, but the available evidence was not used to pursue offenders.”
Public anger has been prompted by the sense that this was not a matter of inefficiency or mismanagement – at least not entirely. There was a political dimension. What used to be called “political correctness” but is now usually termed being “woke” – a mentality that is increasingly prevalent among social workers, the police, and the legal system. That meant that rather than rigorously upholding the law without fear or favour there was regard shown to “cultural sensitivities”. No doubt there will have been some white racists keen to accuse the Asian community of collective guilt. But is it not obvious that ignoring the problem makes this far worse? Also that acting against crime and misconduct should not be subject to such arbitrary distortions? It is important to note that many Asians are completely exasperated at the feeble approach of Guardianista officialdom.
In any event, many traditional Labour voters have ditched their old Party as too “woke” and thus unreliable on such matters. Others have felt their loyalty severely strained. Labour in other parts of Greater Manchester performed rather better. Their Mayor, Andy Burnham, is clearly popular. But the Oldham results show the limits of the electorate’s indulgence towards wokeness.
Conservative councillors in Oldham are not woke. They recently proposed the following motion at a Council meeting:
“The Council notes that.
• Saying that you are proud to be British should not be a source of shame and there is nothing wrong with Patriotism or flying our national flag. It is one of many things that binds our society together.
• That the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is in fact a unique bastion of freedom and that we should be proud of the outstanding role it has played across the world in education, art, culture, science, engineering and in exporting democracy and the rule of law.
• We all have heroes in our communities – whether they are historical or present day, and we should properly celebrate these individuals, and their contribution to our country.
This Council resolves that:
• The Chief Executive of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council write to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Secretary of State for Education asking them to support Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council by providing support for schools to teach the national anthem, fly the Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, display a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II and teach our islands’ history.
• Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council reaffirms its support for the sovereignty of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Crown dependencies and United Kingdom Overseas Territories.
• The relevant cabinet member will request all schools in the Oldham Metropolitan Borough to: – Teach their children to sing the national anthem. – Fly the Union Flag all year round. – Display a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II in a prominent place in schools.
• Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council display a proper and fitting portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II (and any future sovereign) in a prominent place within the Council chamber and at the reception of Oldham Council along with our Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
• This Council rejects the phenomena known as ‘Cancel Culture’ and that it holds these truths to be self-evident, that of freedom of speech and democracy. Truths which must be cherished and defended.”
Some may feel this unapologetic patriotism is – ironically enough – rather un-British given our traditional reserve. But when our values are under attack it is necessary to be rather more assertive. Surely the former Oldham MP, Winston Churchill would have agreed.