Credit where it's due. On hearing the news that Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton, had died on 6 September, the Labour leadership rushed to call the by-election for 9 October. Indecent haste, some said; should at least wait till the man's been buried.
But there was a remorseless logic at work. The Clacton by-election was already scheduled for that date, and UKIP were expected to throw all their resources at getting Douglas Carswell returned to Parliament as their first elected MP. By holding their own vote on the same day, Labour clearly hoped to split UKIP's forces, obliging them to campaign on two fronts.
And last night we saw why the leadership was so worried. On an admittedly low turnout, Labour's vote collapsed by nearly 7,000 votes and UKIP registered 39 per cent. In a rock-solid Labour seat in the north. If just 309 additional voters in Heywood and Middleton had switched sides from Labour to UKIP, then the seat would have been lost.
So credit where it's due: Labour recognized the threat posed by UKIP. But that's all. The only answer to the problem the party could come up with was a tactical manoeuvre. Apart from choosing the date of the by-election, everything else was astonishingly inept.