Labour only just survive by-election shocker

Hannah Roberts

If political turmoil is what rocks your boat then Oldham is definitely one of the places to be in the United Kingdom.

In monsoon-like weather, a Borough Council by-election was fought out between five candidates in what was expected to be a routine victory in a Labour safe seat; held in the Hollinwood ward for many years by the late Jean Stretton, a former Council Leader who sadly passed away in September.

In the end, Hannah Roberts, who lost her own seat in the Royton North ward in controversial circumstances back in May (read more here), scraped home with a majority reduced from 697 to just 79.

It was obvious from the moment candidates and activists arrived in Oldham Civic Centre for the count that something was amiss. Worried expressions amongst the Labour Group, and terse responses to perfectly reasonable questions, told its own story.

By contrast, there was an unexpected buoyancy amongst the Conservatives, whose councillors had turned out in force to support their candidate, well known and notably successful local businessman, Kamran Ghafoor.

There were rumblings in the counting hall about the postal vote, where the Tories appeared to gain around half. A surprise to many. Particularly, those conspiracy theorists who regularly accuse the local Labour Party of manipulating that class of voter.

In the end, Labour saw their majority cut from 697 to just 79 votes. It could be well argued that, without the presence of the right wing Oldham Borough Independent candidate, local girl Vicky Whitehead who secured 152 votes, Labour would have suffered an embarrassing reversal.

Almost as embarrassing was the near obliteration of the Liberal Democrat ‘paper candidate’.

Voter turnout was a surprisingly strong 21%, compared to 23% in May, 2022. There were just over 700 postal votes counted out of 1,612 cast and verified.

The full election result was declared by Returning Officer, Harry Catherall, the Chief Executive of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, as follows:

Hannah Roberts (Lab) 718

Kamran Ghafoor (Con) 639

Dominic Cadman (LD) 36

John Lawrence (NHPUK) 59

Vicky Whitehead (OBI) 152

Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, said after the result was declared:

“Huge congratulations to Hannah Roberts on her by-election win, so well deserved and she’ll be a great advocate for Hollinwood residents.”

Cllr Roberts, a resident of Delph and whose son, George Hulme, is also an Oldham councillor, said in a statement shortly after her victory was confirmed:

“I would like to thank everyone who voted for me.

“I spoke to lots of residents who are angry about the mess the Tories have made of the economy and want to know why they have to pay for the government’s mistakes.

“I pledged in the campaign to work hard and to support people through what will be a hard winter for too many of us, and I will keep my word.”

The Conservatives’ Deputy Leader, Cllr Pam Byrne, said: “Well done, Kamran. A brilliant effort”.

Mr Ghafoor previously stood as a candidate in the Oldham West and Royton general elections in 2010 and 2015, finishing second and third, respectively, behind the late Michael Meacher MP.

He also served as a Labour councillor in the Werneth ward in 2003, losing his seat in the ‘all-out’ local elections the following year when a split vote handed one of the seats to a Liberal Democrat candidate, Kurshid Ahmed. The two other successful candidates in 2004, Labour’s Cllr Fida Hussain and Cllr Shoab Akthar still serve on Oldham Council.

In 2013, Kamran Ghafoor was successfully prosecuted by Oldham Council over failings as a property landlord (read more here).

Page last updated Monday 21st November, 2022 at 1155hrs

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Picture credits: Saddleworth Independent

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Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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