By-elections are not really a great way to judge anything. They can be highly affected by local circumstances and candidate choice, and historically they don't offer a good prediction of what will happen in a General Election.
But for political geeks, they are great fun, and they can create (and destroy) real momentum. Oldham West & Royton is no different. Here are some winners and losers from this by-election.
Jim McMahon MP
Quite literally the winner. Congratulations Jim, enjoy Hogwarts.
Make no mistake, Labour are still going to get annihilated in 2020, because what happens in seats like Oldham (or indeed in other traditional heartlands, and even to some extent Scotland) won't decide the outcome. To win Labour need thousands of 2015 Tory voters in places like Nuneaton and Hertfordshire to switch to them, and it ain't going to happen. But this result hugely strengthens Corbyn's position. The Hilary Benn shaped vultures were circling this week, and the moment a candidate emerges who is acceptable to the Labour membership Corbyn is gone, but he's much stronger after this result because his supporters now have an actual result of an actual election result to wrap around their reality distortion fields.
Probably the biggest winner of them all, the Prime Minister will be delighted with the result. He'll consider the halving of the Tory vote a small price to pay for the damage this result does to UKIP, who were very seriously trying to win and failed miserably. Also, anything that keeps Corbyn in post brings Lyton Crosby's wet dream of Jezza still being Labour leader in May 2020 closer to reality. The Tories number one political objective right now is to keep Corbyn exactly where he is, and this result goes a long way towards doing that.
Last year UKIP nearly won, by accident, the Heywood & Middleton by-election. If they had the intelligence at the time to know what was going on they could have taken the seat from Labour very easily. They thought that they could replicate that (and go one better) this time, and they event went as far as selecting the same candidate. To say they failed is an understatement. Labour thrashed them, and Farage will be deeply disappointed.
UKIP's by-election team
Stories abound of the hilarious incompetence of UKIP's "professional" campaign team. I witnessed this myself during the 2013 Eastleigh by-election when they spent quite a lot of time repeatedly delivering leaflets to large chunks of the neighbouring Winchester constituency. To be fair, the ward in question had been part of Eastleigh, but not since the 1970s.
There had been signs in recent elections that they were starting to learn some things, in particular how to target and turn out postal voters. Sadly for them, it appears more study is needed, for this was not a good result. The impression of incompetence was reinforced by Nigel Farage, who at the count was heard protesting about seeing a "box of postal votes from a Labour Councillor's street" being rigged, demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding about how postal votes are counted (hint: they're not done by street). Back to school Nige.
The Lib Dem deposit
Ok, so the deposit went, but the result is actually ok. The by-election squeeze is a brutal thing. Unless you're the incumbent or the clear challenger, you can expect your vote to be driven into the ground. This is demonstrated right here in Oldham by the Tory's vote dropping by half. Given that, maintaining the (admittedly low) Lib Dem vote share is a decent result, and the campaign team should feel very proud of the hard work they've put in, because without them what happened to the Tories would have happened to the Lib Dems as well.
This sort of by-election doesn't tell us anything about how well the Lib Dems are recovering at the ballot box, that will only come when the party has a chance to fight one from first or a clear second place. Then we'll get a better idea of the direction of travel.