The next series of The Thick of It is, apparently, some way off yet, but political comedy is thriving this year already if the responses – both journalistic and political – to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election are anything to go by. For the record, Labour won this seat in May by just 103 votes, with the Lib Dems coming second. Unfortunately, the Labour MP was the odious Phil Woolas whose musical instrument of choice is the dog whistle. Mr Woolas concocted a pack of outright lies about his Lib Dem opponent, who cried foul and won in the courts. Exit Mr Woolas, enter just about anyone who’s anyone in British politics onto the streets of Oldham (solid Labour) and neighbouring pretty villages (Lib Dem and Tory) in order to contest this first by-election since the election and thus, inevitably, political barometer – and in an interesting marginal that could have gone three ways to boot. You can see the actual results from last night here.

So, enough of the back-story. The first comedians off the blocks were the BBC’s own Lana Kuenssberg and Micheal Crick on Newsnight. Both were heard to say, on national television, that things were ‘pretty tight’ and Labour were nervous. Well, if winning by 10% is ‘tight’ I’d hate to think what these two consider a walkover; maybe even the 99.9% victories enjoyed by certain Arab dictators would struggle to qualify.

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I have to admit that when I first found out that Alan Johnson had been chosen by Ed Miliband as his Shadow Chancellor, I was more than a little disappointed. I had voted for Ed because he seemed like a guy who would be bold, and nothing could have been bolder than appointing Yvette Cooper as the first female shadow Chancellor.

On reflection, however, I think I may have been a little unfair. His choice, it seems to me, displays not just tactical cleverness but also strategic acumen. Alan Johnson is a popular guy, not just in the party but also among the electorate, and appointing him sends a clear signal that Ed Miliband is determined to deal, first and foremost, with the inevitable Tory attempt to brand him as ‘Red Ed’. Ed Balls, even Yvette Cooper, his wife, would have been grist to that particular mill given Balls’ opposition to Alistair Darling’s slower deficit reduction plan, never mind the Chancellor’s (I happen to think Balls is right, but there you go). Johnson, a ‘Blairite’ in the political journalist’s lexicon, confronts the charge head-on and neutralizes it.

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