The leader of Oldham council, Jim McMahon, has defeated a challenge from Labour leftwingers to be selected as the party’s candidate in December’s parliamentary byelection.
McMahon, 35, is the Labour leader of the Local Government Association and was once billed as a possible directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester in 2017.
He now faces a struggle to defeat Ukip in the byelection, caused by the death of Labour MP Michael Meacher, and will face questions about the extent to which he agrees with the politics of Jeremy Corbyn.
He saw off a challenge from three leftwingers, including Chris Williamson, the former Labour MP for Derby North, and a local bus driver, Mohammed Azam, who was supported by the Unite union. McMahon secured 232 votes in the final round to Azam’s 141.
Ukip want the byelection to act as a verdict on Corbyn’s “anti-patriotic politics”, but Labour is likely to likely to build its campaign around defending tax credits and the public services, including cuts to local government, an area of expertise for McMahon.
McMahon was always the frontrunner in this contest. Widely respected for leading Oldham’s regeneration, he is considered an astute political operator with talents beyond his years, ensuring that the town did not lose out in negotiations at the Greater Manchester level, when the combined authority negotiated a big devolution deal with central government last year.
His opponents tried to paint him as right of centre, partly because of his role in the disputes about the future of Greater Manchester. But during his short selection campaign, he said much of his politics aligned with Corbyn’s. “On issues like austerity, I’m very close to Jeremy indeed. I think our public services are buckling under the cuts,” he said in an interview with the Guardian.
Earlier this year he won one of the most influential jobs in local government when he was voted Labour group leader and vice-chair of the Local Government Association Labour Group.
Despite his wide experience in local government, he comes from humble beginnings. The son of a truck driver, he grew up in Miles Platting, a tough area of north Manchester. He left school to “push trolleys” at a local cash and carry, and after becoming a father in his early 20s, worked three jobs to put food on the table. During the week he was an technician apprentice at the University of Manchester, by night a delivery driver, and on Saturdays he worked behind the counter of a newsagent. “I feel that I’m very representative of people in Oldham,” he said.
He is arguably Labour’s best chance of repelling Ukip, which is expected to mount a spirited campaign following their near-win in the Heywood and Middleton byelection last year. While Nigel Farage has already gone around the constituency calling Corbyn’s patriotism into question, McMahon is confident he can win that battle. “My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on.”
In an appeal to local members this week, he said: “We can not take this election for granted. The eyes of the country will be on Oldham, and they will be waiting for Ukip to take the feet from under us. We also know that the constituency isn’t one place, but a collection of towns and neighbourhoods with different needs.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour and Helen Pidd, for theguardian.com on Thursday 5th November 2015 23.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010