All nine wards in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency come under Oldham Council. Seven of those nine wards (Crompton, Saddleworth North, Saddleworth South, Saddleworth West and Lees, Shaw, St James' and Waterhead) were won by the Lib Dems in contests held the same day as the General Election. Only two (Alexandra and St Mary's) were won by Labour. Yet, of course, Labour won the Parliamenytray seat.
Some number crunching by the 24dash.com website confirms the discrepancy. They say:
Analysis of the May 5 voting in the constituency shows a high level of vote splitting, suggesting a "soft" Labour vote then – if not now.
Votes cast in the General Election contest were: Woolas (Lab) 14,186 (31.86%), Watkins (LD) 14,083 (31.63%), Ali (C) 11,773 (26.44%), Stott (BNP) 2,546 (5.72%), Bentley (Ukip) 1,720 (3.86%), Nazir (Christian Party) 212 (0.48%).
But in the same day's council polls the figures in the nine Oldham council wards covering the constituency were Lib Dem 18,339 (40.96%), Lab 11,950 (26.69%), C 10,621 (23.72%), others 3,877 (8.66%).
In next door Rochdale constituency, which also saw a close Labour win over Lib Dem, the parliamentary result differed only slightly from the council one.
The huge divergence at Oldham East might suggest Mr Woolas had a high personal vote or that his leaflets persuaded some Lib Dem supporters to abandon Mr Watkins but not their party's council candidates.
Neither of these explanations seem adequate to account for a majority difference of nearly 6,500.
They've got a point, haven't they? That gap is pretty big. Whether through the effectiveness of his dishonest campaign or for more positive reasons Woolas seemed to have got a better result than expected. We can also see that the Conservatives were unfortunate given their strong share of the vote not to win any of the nine wards. Does any of this mean that Labour could be in trouble?
Oldham Council is a Lib Dem-Conservative coalition. Previously it was a Lib Dem council with the opposition Conservatives sharply critical of wasteful spending. But there are encouraging signs of realism in response to the 19% cuts of central Government grant ovet the next two years. I expect Labour may look to attack the Council over cuts – but the Council is not making itself an easy target by avoiding cuts on the front line.
Their last Council meeting Oldham Council noted "that as a consequence of the comprehensive spending review, public spending in 2015 will be at a similar share of national income to that in 2006 – after nine years of a Labour government." It also welcomed "the removal of ring fencing from government grants to local authorities, which will allow the current Lib Dem/Conservative joint administration to make the best choices for the people of Oldham Borough." It even resolved "to Request the Chief Executive to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer welcoming the new financial freedoms announced within the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR)."
Their budget proposals adds that:
The Council is also looking at a number of broader savings options, including more partnership working with other councils and the NHS and reviewing the buildings we own and use.
That is a sensible approach. Specific savings include £510,000 on staff "training and travel" as well as £410,000 on communications. £300,000 on catering, £500,000 on consultancy, £97,000 on Human resources, £150,000 renegotiating mobile phone tariffs, etc, etc, etc. Lots of posts with such titles as "Regeneration Officer (Policy and Commissioning)" are being "deleted." Increasing the target for income for Fixed Penalty notices for people dropping litter is also welcome.
£1.2 million is being saved rationalising some staggeringly inefficient employment training programmes. ("Overall the existing schemes have a very high staff to service user ratio, with 61 posts for an estimated 80 regular service users.") There will be a call for Big Society volunteering to help with School Crossing patrols – with the Council still providing the uniforms and training.
Oldham Council seems to be doing a good job coping with the cuts.