2011 Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election

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Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election

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Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency
  First party Second party
  Debbie Abrahams MP (3x4 crop).jpg Elwyn Watkins (3x4 crop).jpg
Candidate Debbie Abrahams Elwyn Watkins
Party Labour Liberal Democrats
Popular vote 14,718 11,160
Percentage 42.1% 31.9%
Swing Increase10.2% Increase0.3%

  Third party Fourth party
Paul Nuttal 2014 (cropped).jpg
Candidate Kashif Ali Paul Nuttall
Party Conservative UKIP
Popular vote 4,481 2,029
Percentage 12.8% 5.8%
Swing Decrease13.6% Increase1.9%

Map showing the Oldham East and Saddleworth Parliamentary constituency within Greater Manchester.

MP before election

Phil Woolas

Subsequent MP

Debbie Abrahams

The 2011 by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth was a by-election for the Parliament of the United Kingdom's House of Commons constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth held on 13 January 2011.[1] Labour Party candidate Debbie Abrahams held the seat for her party with an increased majority over the Liberal Democrats, succeeding Phil Woolas, whose victory in the 2010 general election had been declared void because he had knowingly made false statements attacking his Liberal Democrat opponent's personal character.


Election leaflet by Phil Woolas used during the general election and ruled to contain deliberate false statements attacking Elwyn Watkins' character.

The election was triggered on 5 November 2010 after sitting MP Phil Woolas was reported personally guilty of "knowingly making false statements" about the personal character of his Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, during the 2010 general election campaign by an election court consisting of two High Court judges.[2][3] In consequence, Woolas ceased to be an MP on 5 November[4] and was banned from holding public office for three years.

Woolas applied for a judicial review of the decision:[5] his initial application was rejected, but he entered a second request for a review.[6] Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow stated that a date for the by-election would not be set until all legal proceedings were complete.[7] Woolas's second request for review was heard at the High Court on 16 November 2010;[8] the Court of Appeal announced on 3 December 2010 that, although one of the three statements on which the election court had found Woolas guilty was not within the Act, the other two were and so the judgment was upheld,[9] after which Woolas declared "That's it – I'm out", conceding defeat and leaving the way open for the by-election.[10]

By parliamentary convention, the party who last held the seat moves the writ for the by-election, and it was rumoured that Labour planned to call the election for 3 February 2011.[a][12] However, a writ for the election was instead moved for 13 January by the Liberal Democrats.[1][13]

The contest was the first by-election of the 2010 parliament, and the first by-election to be caused by an election court overturning the previous result since the 1997 Winchester by-election. It is also notable for being the earliest by-election in the calendar year for 55 years and the fifth-earliest since the First World War.[14]


The Labour Party had more than eighty members apply to be their candidate in the election. Initial frontrunner Afzal Khan was not shortlisted, and the party instead selected Debbie Abrahams from a shortlist of three. Abrahams had unsuccessfully fought to retain the Colne Valley seat at the 2010 general election after the retirement of Kali Mountford, where Labour fell from first to third place, and is married to the former Lancashire cricket captain John Abrahams.[15] The Liberal Democrats again selected Elwyn Watkins to fight the by-election; Watkins is a former Rochdale borough councillor who had previously worked as a business advisor to a Saudi Arabian sheikh.[15][16] The Conservative Party also reselected their general election candidate, Kashif Ali, a barrister from Higginshaw.[17]

Two other parties who stood in the general election confirmed new candidates for the by-election. The British National Party at first announced that their candidate would be party leader Nick Griffin, who had stood in neighbouring Oldham West and Royton in 2001. However Griffin was replaced by former Manchester pub landlord Derek Adams, who had contested Blackley and Broughton at the 2010 general election. The UK Independence Party nominated their new deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, who was, at the time, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for North West England.[18]

Three further smaller parties which had not fought the general election put up candidates. The Green Party chose Peter Allen, from nearby Glossop; he works in an advice centre in Manchester.[19] Stephen Morris, an official of Manchester Metrolink and trade union branch official, was announced as the candidate for the English Democrats; he is also Chairman of the party.[20] Musician, composer and teacher Loz Kaye, who had recently become leader of the Pirate Party, was also nominated.[21]

Two further fringe candidates had less serious agendas. Nick Delves, who had acquired the nickname "the flying brick" after a paragliding accident, became the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate,[22] while artist and poet David Bishop (founder of the Church of the Militant Elvis Party) offered himself to the electors as a 'Bus Pass Elvis' candidate.[23]


A selection of campaign materials delivered to constituents for the by-election

As the first by-election since the establishment of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, there was interest in whether the two parties would form a pact. Prime Minister David Cameron publicly wished Watkins well at the start of the campaign,[24] but both parties officially rejected the idea that there was a pact, with Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats claiming that the Tories had no chance of winning the seat,[25] and Cameron later reminding voters that it had been a three-horse race in 2010.[26] Both former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband claimed that it was the first opportunity for voters to make their views known on the coalition,[25][27] although David Cameron argued that it was instead about the actions of Woolas.[26] Woolas himself claimed that his disqualification would help the Labour Party, as voters would object to courts overturning the election result.[28]

The Labour Party complained that the date of the by-election would make it difficult for students to vote, as they would not yet have returned to their studies in the constituency. However, the Liberal Democrats claimed that this would be outweighed by the number of students at their parents' houses during their holidays from universities elsewhere.[29]

Leaders of all three major parties campaigned in the seat in the run-up to the election,[27] David Cameron noted that he was the first prime minister to campaign in an English by-election since 1997, when Tony Blair campaigned in the Uxbridge by-election – Gordon Brown had campaigned in 2008 for the Glenrothes by-election in Scotland.[30] On 6 January, a week prior to the by-election, The Times endorsed the Liberal Democrats and their candidate Elwyn Watkins.[31]

On the last weekend of the campaign, Liberal Democrat MP and government minister Andrew Stunell issued a party press release hailing a government scheme to reuse empty homes. The scheme was only officially unveiled on the following Monday, and shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office Jon Trickett wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell questioning whether Stunell's actions had broken the rules on election period 'purdah'. O'Donnell wrote back on 12 January explaining that Stunell "recognises with hindsight" that his party press release could have been linked by the public with a government spending announcement, and that Stunell had apologised for the mistake.[32]

Two opinion polling companies released constituency polls for the by-election on 8 January. ICM and Populus used sample sizes of 340 and 772, respectively (excluding those who refused to respond or did not specify a party).[33][34][35] ICM's figures of Labour 44%, Liberal Democrats 27% and Conservatives 18% represented a sharp percentage decrease of 8% for the Conservatives, contrasted with a sizable 12% increase for Labour and a modest 5% decline in Liberal Democrat support since the 2010 general election, indicating a secure Labour victory in the constituency.[33][36] Populus' figures uncovered similar trends, recording voting intention as Labour 46%, Liberal Democrats 29% and Conservatives 15%, representing percentage changes since May 2010 of −11% for the Conservatives, +14% for Labour and −3% for the Liberal Democrats.[33] A telephone poll by Survation reported voting intention figures of Labour 31%, Liberal Democrats 30%, Conservatives 6% and undecided 23% (note the ICM and Populus poll figures exclude undecideds), on a sample size of 293 (excluding those who refused to respond).[37][38]


Having only narrowly retained the seat at the general election eight months earlier, Labour retained it once again but this time with a vastly increased majority, with the Liberal Democrats finishing second.

Election Political result Candidate Party Votes % ±%
By-election, 2011[39][40][41][42][43]
2010 result voided on petition
Electorate: 72,788
Turnout: 34,930 (48.0%) –13.1
Labour hold
Majority: 3,558 (10.2%) +10.0
Swing: 5.0% from Lib Dem to Lab
Debbie AbrahamsLabour14,71842.1+10.2
Elwyn Watkins Liberal Democrats11,16031.9+0.3
Kashif Ali Conservative4,48112.8–13.6
Paul Nuttall UKIP2,0295.8+1.9
Derek Adams BNP1,5604.5–1.2
Peter Allen Green5301.5New
Nick "The Flying Brick" Delves Monster Raving Loony1450.4New
Stephen Morris English Democrat1440.4New
Loz Kaye Pirate960.3New
David Bishop Bus-Pass Elvis670.1New
General election 2010[44][45]
Electorate: 72,557
Turnout: 44,520 (61.2%) +4.4
Labour hold
Majority: 103 (0.3%) –10.2
Swing: 5.1% from Lab to Lib Dem
Phil WoolasLabour14,18631.9–10.7
Elwyn Watkins Liberal Democrats14,08331.6–0.5
Kashif Ali Conservative11,77326.4+8.7
Alwyn Stott BNP2,5465.7+0.8
David Bentley UKIP1,7203.9+1.8
Gulzar Nazir Christian2120.5New

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Note this convention is not always followed and the Speaker is required to accept a writ correctly moved from any source. For example, the writ for a by-election in Cardiff North West in 1983 was moved by a Plaid Cymru MP despite the seat having been vacated on the death of its Conservative MP. (The by-election was then superseded by the 1983 general election and thus never held.)[11]


  1. ^ a b "Oldham East by-election to be held on 13 January". BBC News. 15 December 2010.
  2. ^ "Judges order election re-run in ex-minister's seat". BBC News. 5 November 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  3. ^ "Watkins v Woolas 2010 EWHC 2702 (QB)". British and Irish Legal Information Institute. 5 November 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  4. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard, 8 November 2010 : Column 1". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  5. ^ Curtis, Polly (5 November 2010). "Phil Woolas immigration leaflets case: high court orders election rerun in Oldham East". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  6. ^ "Woolas makes fresh effort to overturn ban from politics". BBC News. 8 November 2010.
  7. ^ "Harriet Harman faces Labour anger over Woolas comments". BBC News. 9 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Phil Woolas: I've been humbled by support". Manchester Evening News. 15 November 2010.
  9. ^ "R on the application of Woolas v The Parliamentary Election Court and others (2010) EWHC 3169 (Admin)". British and Irish Legal Information Institute. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  10. ^ "Phil Woolas says legal fight has hit 'end of the road'". BBC News. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Election Timetables" (PDF). House of Commons Library. 13 May 2009. p. 21.
  12. ^ "Woolas's exit paves way for BNP to stand in by-election". The Independent. London. 4 December 2010. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  13. ^ "Row over Oldham by-election date as campaigning begins". BBC News. 16 December 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  14. ^ "Oldham East by-election is fifth earliest since World War I". Political Scrapbook. 18 December 2010. Retrieved 18 December 2010.
  15. ^ a b "Three On Labour's Saddleworth Shortlist". Saddleworth News. 10 December 2010.
  16. ^ "Watkins resigns from council". Oldham Evening Chronicle. 30 March 2010.
  17. ^ "Kashif Ali Confirmed As Tory Candidate". Saddleworth News. 14 December 2010.
  18. ^ "Nuttall steps up for Oldham East". UK Independence Party. 16 November 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  19. ^ "About Peter Allen". Oldham Greens. Archived from the original on 24 December 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  20. ^ "English Democrats candidate for the Oldham East & Saddleworth By-election". English Democrats Party. 18 December 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  21. ^ "Loz Kaye: Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Oldham East & Saddleworth". Pirate Party UK. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  22. ^ Greer, Stuart (21 December 2010). "Could 'The Flying Brick' become a Monster Raving Loony MP in Oldham East and Saddleworth?". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  23. ^ "Oldham and Saddleworth By-election". Church of the Militant Elvis Party. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  24. ^ Parker, George (17 December 2010). "Cameron wishes Lib Dems well in Oldham". Financial Times.
  25. ^ a b "Cable denies by-election pact with Tories". BBC News. 19 December 2010.
  26. ^ a b White, Michael (6 January 2011). "David Cameron denies Oldham byelection pact claims". The Guardian. London.
  27. ^ a b "Ed Miliband campaigns in Oldham ahead of by-election". BBC News. 3 January 2011.
  28. ^ "Former MP Phil Woolas says court case will help Labour". BBC News. 12 January 2011.
  29. ^ "Row over Oldham by-election date as campaigning begins". BBC News. 16 December 2010.
  30. ^ McSmith, Andy (7 January 2011). "Cameron out on the stump – but does he really want to win?". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  31. ^ "The Times endorse the Lib Dems". Liberal Democrat Voice. 6 January 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  32. ^ Watt, Nicholas (13 October 2011). "Liberal Democrat minister apologises after sailing close to wind on byelection rules". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  33. ^ a b c "UK Polling Report". UK Polling Report. 8 January 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  34. ^ "ICM Poll for the Mail on Sunday" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 January 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  35. ^ "Populus Poll" (PDF). Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  36. ^ Toby Helm, Paul Gallagher & Mark Townsend (9 January 2011). "Polls point to convincing Labour win in byelection | Politics | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  37. ^ "UK Polling Report". UK Polling Report. 8 January 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  38. ^ "Oldham East & Saddleworth Survey Results". Archived from the original on 12 January 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  39. ^ "Ten Candidates To Fight By-Election". Saddleworth News. 23 December 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  40. ^ "Oldham East and Saddleworth". UKPollingReport.
  41. ^ Lipman, Jennifer (3 December 2010). "BNP's Nick Griffin in bid for Phil Woolas' Oldham seat". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  42. ^ "Three On Labour's Saddleworth Shortlist". Saddleworth News. 10 December 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  43. ^ "Official Monster Raving Loony Party Homepage". Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  44. ^ "Election 2010 – Oldham East & Saddleworth". BBC News. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  45. ^ "UK General Election results May 2010". Richard Kimber's Political Science Resources. Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 24 December 2010.

External links[edit]

Candidate websites[edit]