Thursday 6 January 2011

Could it be The Times Wot Wins it in Oldham?

The Guardian's declaration of a liberal moment proved remarkably uninfluential with the paper's own readers, who swung away from the LibDems and towards Labour instead.

But Nick Clegg now has foul-weather friends on The Times leader desk.

They have never supported the Liberals, the Alliance or the LibDems in any of their great by-election campaign victories, where they have tapped into an insurgent mood to cause a major upset.

But they now have the support of The Times for precisely the reason that the LibDems can't make that appeal to voters any more, as their editorial (£) Oldham and Victory" declares in its standfirst that "In next week's by-election, the LibDems deserve a reward for constructive service"

Courage and public-spirited service deserve their reward. And this motive tempts The Times to offer readers who have a vote in Oldham advice that we have never offered before. They should vote Lib Dem.

Many minor-party by-election upsets have been fuelled by protest votes. Nick Clegg’s party is attempting the opposite trick: a minor-party upset fuelled by admiration for showing a sense of responsibility and for a willingness to take tough decisions in Government.

Vote LibDem for courage and responsibility on the VAT rise and the tuition fees hike.

That would make a good Focus leaflet!

The editorial is behind The Times paywall, which means it risks going widely unnoticed by the bloggerati and twittersphere.

More importantly, I haven't seen any newspaper reading demographics for the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency itself, so it is difficult to comment definitively on what readership and market-share The Times has in that part of Lancashire, where the Oldham Evening Chronicle has a somewhat better claim to be the by-election paper of record.

Still, election strategists will doubtless be trying this morning to model whether The Thunderer's endorsement might prove a by-election game-changer.

I would tentatively venture that it is perhaps unlikely to propel the LibDems to victory - or indeed to make any major difference to perhaps the real political question, of whether the Tory campaign has been stood down enough to ensure the LibDems can hold on to second place.

If responsibility should have its reward, it is unlikely to come at the ballot box.

But perhaps the greater prize for Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats is that the transition from an insurgent to an Establishment party would seem to be complete!

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