Oh, Oldham West. Poor, poor Oldham West. By the time you read this article, we might already know the results of Thursday's by-election. I'm already tempted to send them a bouquet of sympathy. But the more worrying part is that we might be saying that no matter who wins this by-election.
It comes down to a choice-UKIP or Labour. John Bickley or Jim McMahon. That's the choice Oldham West are facing. It is a choice that makes me deeply, deeply sorry for them.
There's a certain joy in being non-partisan when it comes to politics. There really is-it allows you to look at the commotion that emerges in debates, votes, leadership elections with an amused eye, watching as people fall over themselves to convince you that their party is the one for the people, that their party, in contrast to all the broken promises of the past, will be the one to save you. We saw it too often in the General Election. And right now, being non-partisan seems to be the safest option-stating you're any other will have you ducking your head as the insults are thrown and the Twitterati scream about traitors and conspiracies.
So why should we feel so sorry for Oldham? It's previously been a safe Labour seat. Surely, we can expect something similar this time.
No. It's no longer a safe Labour seat. And if it was, we should still be worried.
I was originally completely neutral on Jeremy Corbyn. I had no idea who he was before the summer of 2015 and these days, I'm partly wishing it had stayed that way. I'm not a member of the Labour party. I didn't vote in the leadership election. (For those interested in my non-partisan viewpoint, I'd have gone for Andy Burnham.) But I had nothing against Corbyn. Sure, when the first resignation came as Corbyn was launching into his victory speech, I was a little perturbed. But I was prepared to see what he had to offer.
Here's the thing about being non-partisan: I might have voted for Labour. I'm not just saying that-I honestly might have done at some stage. While I liked some of the Tories' policies, I had reservations about others-specifically the tax credit cuts, which were ultimately reversed in George Osborne's Autumn Statement 2015. There were others that concerned me, like the bedroom tax. But ultimately, things like Labour's track record with the economy concern me more. But that's not to say that that couldn't have changed in the next five years. After suffering their worst General Election defeat in a generation, Labour might still have settled down, learnt from its' mistakes and put together a credible argument for government in 2020. And I might actually have voted for that potential government.
What a pity they didn't do any of that.
The nagging little voice telling me Corbyn was either a goner or a stone around the Labour Party's neck started to get louder the more mishaps he seemed to get into. Now, I'm not talking about the fact it emerged he'd once had a relationship with Diane Abbott or the debate over the exact degree of his bow at the Cenotaph. No, I was more concerned about his appointments of Andrew Fisher and John McDonnell, the divisions he was causing in the Shadow Cabinet and the fact that he would apparently have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the nuclear button even as World War 3 raged around us.
They were concerns, yes. But they weren't deciding factors.
And then came Paris.
I watched the Paris attacks as they unfolded on the news. I had a friend in France, who we began frantic efforts to get hold of. (She was safe, it transpired.) It was a night of absolute horror and chaos, which many of us were watching unfold live on our TV screens. I don't think I closed my eyes until daylight Saturday morning.
There are things I don't admire about David Cameron. One thing I do is his leadership. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks-or any terror attack close to home-people look to a leader. When we're voting for a Prime Minister, we want someone who feels like they could be the leader in utter chaos, who could take the make-or-break phone call. Cameron feels like he could do that. And in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, he more than stepped up to the plate.
A pity Corbyn didn't do the same.
I expected him to at least say he'd support the Prime Minister. Yes, he was a pacifist. But surely, he could see these were exceptional circumstances. As we've rapidly learnt in the weeks since, Paris was far from the last of the attacks planned by the group calling itself ISIS. Surely, Corbyn would see that this was a situation that was exceptional-where fighting back might be the only way to protect our citizens.
Imagine the shock when Corbyn decides to tell us all that he wouldn't support a shoot-to-kill policy even in the event of a Paris-style attack here in the UK.
I don't think I need to point out the problems with this. What I will point out is that, following this remark, my lifelong non-partisan father, who was watching the news reports with me, clapped his hands and shook his head. "Corbyn's gone" he said, words which might have proved more prophetic than he intended. Even after Corbyn retracted these words the next day, they hung in our ears-and the whole retraction smacked of political advisers ringing their hands and begging him to rethink.
What had begun as outrage over these and Corbyn's other comments over the death of Jihadi John quickly erupted into an outcry as Cameron proposed, once again, beginning air strikes on Syria-though this time aiming at a different target. Corbyn then quickly made it clear he would not support this-despite the fact many of his Shadow Cabinet would.
This might have been the beginning of the end for Corbyn. It was certainly the end of me giving him the benefit of the doubt. And his actions over the last few weeks have only reinforced that viewpoint. Tom Watson, Corbyn's own deputy leader, has appealed to Corbyn to back the Syria air strikes. His PLP meetings have been described as the worst they've ever been. And then came the Autumn Statement, in which John McDonnell decided the best way to restore confidence in Labour might be to throw a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book at George Osborne. I don't even want to imagine the strategy meeting that led to this.
While some of these missteps could be seen as ridiculous, there've been other, more sinister developments in the Labour Party. Revelations of Corbyn emailing his party members to essentially command them to vote with him in the Commons. The fact that Diane Abbott, one of Corbyn's few remaining supporters in the party, had her defence of his position skilfully taken apart by, of all people, Hilary Benn. People being accused of encouraging bullying of non-Corbyn supporters on the Internet. The fact that it is now rumoured that deselection-which has a weirdly Orwellian ring to it-of MPs who don't support Corbyn is being encouraged. And the fact that McDonnell, who'd already dismissed his stunt with the book as a "joke", had once made another charming little jape-he'd suggested that Labour councillors who refused to meet with the IRA should have their kneecaps shot off.
It says something that in amongst all this chaos which is beginning to sound a little too much like a party either falling apart or turning into a satire worthy of The Thick Of It, Ken Livingstone's comments about the 7/7 bombers being people who "gave their lives" and blaming the whole attack on Tony Blair, nearly went unnoticed. Nearly. I think they speak for themselves, especially coming from a man who mocked the mentally ill.
So. Oldham has a choice. Admittedly, Jim McMahon seems to be fairly well-liked and to have a lot of personal appeal. I feel downright sorry for the man at the moment. But he's part of Corbyn's Labour Party. If he's voted in, they'll have voted in a member of a party that currently doesn't know where it stands, what it stands for, and is ruled by someone who's sounding increasingly as though he might not just lose Labour the election-he could lose them their credibility for a generation to come.
And it appears some of them are listening. Leader of the Milifandom and Labour member Abby Tomlinson posted on Twitter some of the reactions she'd personally received campaigning in Oldham. Her overwhelming conclusion-as a member of the Labour party-was that she encountered nobody who had joined Labour as a result of Corbyn becoming leader. However, she encountered many who said that as a direct result of Corbyn becoming leader, Labour had now lost their vote. I wasn't surprised. Some of my friends who are lifelong Labour supporters are now almost wrestling each other off this sinking ship. And some of the lifeboats they're aiming for aren't even left-wing. Take a family friend's parents-lifelong Labour voters. Now that Corbyn's in, they're happy to defect-and not just any old defection. Oh no-for the 2020 election, they're already considering giving a vote to the Tories.
(For Abby's honesty, it's worth noting, she was immediately harassed by Corbyn supporters who apparently think that insulting and bullying fellow members is the way to persuade people that Corbyn should sit in Number 10. This went as far as one of them labelling Ed Miliband "a red Tory", which I'm pretty sure would be taken as an insult by both Miliband and the Tories.)
I'm not a member of UKIP. I'm not a UKIP supporter. I don't approve of much of what they stand for. Therefore, it says something that I, as a non-partisan voter, am saying they might look like the better option. It says something even stronger that some Labour members are rumoured to be saying the same thing.
Oh yes, you heard right. Some Labour members are rumoured to have actually welcomed the idea of UKIP winning the Oldham by-election-simply because it might force Corbyn to go. Labour members are so unhappy, they are actually rooting for their own party to lose a by-election. Maybe I'm not a political expert-but if this is true, I'd say it's a fairly bad sign when a party is actually rooting for itself to lose.
But that's what Labour has become. A party that is rooting for itself to lose an election. A party which is tearing itself apart. A party which-despite a few frail claims of some hidden harmony-looks to be rapidly dissolving under its' own disagreements.
The final nail in Labour's coffin? Those members who aren't rooting for their own destruction have started outright begging. When actor and comedian Robert Webb announced on Twitter that he was leaving the Labour party, he received a grovelling message from a Labour party worker pleading with him to stay. And they didn't try to carry it off with pride either. There was no "we can offer you this." There was no "We need to stand strong."
Instead, there was this:
Well, that could serve as their next manifesto right there.
That, right there, is the moment Labour's credibility dissolved. The party itself are admitting they are a party who don't deserve your support. They have admitted that they are asking you to support a party that does not deserve it. It summons up an image of a child standing over a broken vase, shrugging and saying "Yes, I broke it. But don't punish me."
So there you have it with Labour. Some of them wanting their own party to lose. Others grovelling and begging for votes. The rest presumably shaking their heads wondering just whether or not they can actually have a direction from here. A leader who's been accused of going behind his MPs' backs, refusing to listen to them, and is at odds with most of his party. And yet, without a hint of irony, they're asking people to vote for them in Oldham West.
Well. Oldham West have a choice. Who they'll elect as MP is up to them. Perhaps they will elect John Bickley, and perhaps that will hasten Corbyn's departure. But in that case-what would Labour offer instead? More floundering?
Or maybe they'll elect Jim McMahon. In which case, Labour might pat themselves on the back for a while. Only trouble is, that won't distract from the far bigger problems in the Labour party. And from where I'm standing, it won't save Corbyn in the long run. Because even if he remains as leader, nothing can save Corbyn now. The Tories will be cheering if he is the candidate put forward for Prime Minister in 2020. We saw them cheer on Wednesday. They were right to. They were watching their opponents tear themselves apart.
Whatever happens, from a non-partisan point of view-it's going to be a long, long time before Labour ever get my vote. I might have voted for them in the past. But now-for a party that's ripping apart at the seams, backbiting and bullying online and outright begging for what they acknowledge is undeserved support-those days are long gone. I respect Corbyn's rights to his own views. I do. I even respect him as a person. But I can't respect his tactics. Labour have alienated the very voters they should have been trying to persuade to their cause.
Whatever happens, one thing's for sure-Oldham will deserve one big lavish bouquet of sympathy on Friday morning.