DEBBIE Abrahams survived rumours and scares to prevent the electorate of Oldham East and Saddleworth returning a Conservative Member of Parliament for the first time.
Not since Phil Woolas edged out Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins by just 103 votes in 2010 has Labour looked close to losing its grip on the constituency.
Mrs Abrahams retained her seat two years ago with a majority of more than 8,000. But in 2019, only 1,499 votes separated her from Conservative candidate Tom Lord.
Early in the count it was suggested by exit polls that Mr Lord had a 61 percent chance of unseating his socialist rival. Later, in the early hours, Mr Lord’s supporters were beginning to seriously believe victory was a possibility.
However, with the Brexit Party’s Paul Brierley polling nearly 3,000 votes to finish third ahead of Liberal Democrat Sam Al-Hamdani, Mrs Abrahams held off the challenge in this seven-way fight across Greater Manchester’s largest constituency by area.
“I knew it was going to be close,” she said, celebrating her latest win with a hug from husband John, a former Lancashire cricket club captain, and by putting on a striking Christmas jumper.
“We were out speaking to people on the doorstep every week so that’s the feeling we had.
“But it was a shock that it went down (the majority) that much – but we saw that nationally as well.
“Now, we have to make sure we respond to that as a party as a whole.
“As we have done previously, we will be out every week listening to people and the issues that matter to them.
“People have bought into Brexit but it is not over and there will be difficult times ahead. It is my responsibility to protect and look after the people in my constituency.”
Mrs Abrahams admitted six weeks of electioneering was the “most difficult election I have encountered”.
She continued: “My fellow candidates have behaved in a friendly and amicable way.
“Beyond that there has been a nasty tone to the campaign which we shouldn’t have.
“Politics is about public service but to name call and make things personal detracts from what we are about. We must be better than this.
“I got into politics because I wanted to make a difference, particularly to Oldham East and Saddleworth, to make a difference surrounding inequality and poverty.
“I think we are going to have our work cut out over the next few years,” she warned.
Runner-up Mr Lord put on a brave face after his narrow defeat, saying: “I am happy despite the result.
“I came here with five weeks’ notice as the candidate to attempt to overturn someone who has been a Member of Parliament for nine years and very difficult to shift.
“I was motivated to stand because of Brexit and it would appear that national majority is now there which I am pleased about and I have played my part.
“I hope the Labour Party take heed of that.”
Three of the seven candidates – Paul Errock (Proud of Oldham & Saddleworth), who didn’t appear on stage when the official result was announced, Wendy Olsen (Green) and Amoy Lindo (independent) – lost their £500 deposits after failing to win five percent of the vote.
Oldham East and Saddleworth
Debbie Abrahams (Lab) – 20,088
Tom Lord (Con) – 18,589
Paul Brierley (Brexit Party) – 2,980
Sam Al-Hamdani (Lib Dem) – 2,423
Paul Errock (Proud of Oldham & Saddleworth) – 1,073
Wendy Olsen (Green) – 778
Amoy Lindo (Ind) – 233
Number of rejected ballots: 102
Turnout: 64.18 percent