Is Ukip a threat in Oldham West?
Michael Meacher, who died on 21 October 2015, had represented the Oldham West and Royton constituency since its creation in the boundary changes of 1997 when the former Oldham Central and Royton seat was abolished. Before that Meacher had represented Oldham West since 1970. Oldham West has been Labour since its creation in 1950 with the exception of 1968-70 following a Conservative gain in a by-election.
General election results on current boundaries 2005
|GENERAL ELECTION||2005 notional %||2010 %||2015||2015 %|
Local election results since 2010
|LOCAL ELECTION %||2010||2011||2012||2014||2015|
Composition of the constituency
As the name suggests, Oldham West and Royton is based on the western side of the Greater Manchester borough of Oldham, north-east of Manchester city centre just outside the M60 ring.
It is divided into three geographical sub-units:
- Oldham West. Four borough wards cover an area of the town of Oldham. Coldhurst is the west side of the town centre, Werneth an inner city neighbourhood immediately to its south, and the two wards of Medlock Vale and Hollinwood are suburbs to the south of the town centre.
- Chadderton. An old mill town to the west of Oldham but part of the borough and directly adjacent to Oldham town – extending out towards the town of Middleton in the neighbouring borough of Rochdale. Three wards make up the Chadderton area.
- Royton. A smaller town within the borough of Oldham, formerly a centre of cotton spinning but now more residential. It has two borough wards.
Demographically and politically, the principal distinction within the seat is between Oldham West on the one side and the outlying towns of Chadderton and Royton on the other.
|Turnout 2015 %||White % 2011||Change White % 2001-11||Age 65+ %||Social rent %||Median household income||Out of work benefits %|
|OLDHAM WEST AND ROYTON||59.6||70.1||14.0||23.5|
Sources: Oldham Business Intelligence Service Ward Profiles, 2015; Census 2011.
The wards within the constituency fall into two clearly defined clusters on many variables – household income, proportion of people aged over 65, proportion of social renting households, reliance on out of work benefits. Chadderton and Royton are older and better-off than west Oldham, although there are no areas of outstanding wealth.
The ethnic composition of the constituency is interesting. Parts of the constituency are in rapid transition, with the two central wards of Coldhurst and Werneth having moved from mixed to overwhelmingly Asian since 2011. The ethnic minority population is nearly all Muslim (24.6 per cent of the population are Muslim, 19 highest among 650 constituencies) and divided fairly equally between people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. The growing Bangladeshi community in Coldhurst has expanded outwards into Chadderton North ward, leading to this previously nearly all white ward becoming more mixed. Chadderton South and Central, Royton and the white working class ward of Hollinwood, have been less affected by changing demographics; Royton in particular is much more white than the English average.
Turnout does not quite vary by income levels, because the mainly Asian wards in the centre are keener on electoral participation than some relatively deprived white working class wards (Medlock Vale, Hollinwood, Chadderton South).
Oldham council has produced a range of ward profiles with social and demographic information on each ward in the borough; they are available for download here.
2011 census data
- One per cent white (575 out of 650 constituencies)
- Five per cent Asian (29 highest constituency), nearly all of either Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage.
- Six per cent Muslim (19 highest constituency)
- Relatively high social renting – 23.5 per cent (125 highest constituency)
- Low-skill and high unemployment local economy
Labour regained control of Oldham borough council in 2011 after a four-year period of no overall control (the Liberal Democrats had some local successes and are relatively strong in the Saddleworth section of Oldham borough). Labour now has a strong majority with 45 councillors, opposed by 10 Liberal Democrats, two Conservatives, two Ukip and one independent. The perennial problems of byelections in safe Labour seats, namely a complacent lack of organisation and poor council performance, should be less of an influence than in some past byelections such as Rotherham.
All wards in Oldham West and Royton have voted Labour in all elections since 2010. At Labour’s low point in 2006-2008 the following wards voted for other parties:
- Chadderton Central Conservative in 2007, 2008
- Chadderton North Conservative in 2006, 2007, 2008
- Coldhurst Lib Dem in 2006, 2007
- Hollinwood Lib Dem in 2006, 2007, 2008
- Royton South Lib Dem in 2006, 2008
Even so, the difference between west Oldham and the other two towns is noticeable from the local election results. In May 2015 Labour polled 45 per cent in the outlying towns and 64 per cent in west Oldham; the votes for the Conservatives were 21 per cent in the outlying towns and eight per cent in west Oldham. Ukip polled more consistently across the whole constituency, scoring around 25 per cent in most wards, with the exception of the two majority-Asian wards (Coldhurst, Werneth) and a strong showing in Chadderton South. Ukip ran second to Labour in the general election and in seven of the nine component wards (exceptions being Coldhurst – Liberal Democrat and Chadderton North – Conservative).
|% local vote 2015||Con||Lab||Lib Dem||Ukip||Green|
Source: Ordnance Survey Election Maps
At first glance, Oldham West and Royton is, for Labour, unnervingly similar to the neighbouring constituency of Heywood and Middleton where Ukip nearly won an ostensibly ‘safe’ Labour seat in a by-election in October 2014. Royton and Chadderton are mill towns similar to those across the borough boundary and may be just as susceptible to Ukip. The south Oldham wards may also be reasonable Ukip territory.
There are differences; Labour are more dominant in Oldham West and Royton, polling about 10 points higher than in the Heywood and Middleton seat in each recent set of local elections. Heywood also had one strongly Conservative ward (Bamford), while Oldham West has none; nor did Heywood have anything like the two solidly Asian, Muslim and Labour wards in central Oldham (Coldhurst and Werneth). If those turn out and support Labour to their accustomed degree, they should be able to provide a decisive margin that Ukip will have to do very well in the rest of the seat to overhaul. Labour should be able to hold the constituency, although a strong second place for Ukip is highly likely.
Lewis Baston is a contributing editor to Progress and senior research fellow at Democratic Audit. He tweets @LewisBaston