Saturday News Review

Oldham round-up

DAVID Cameron is under pressure from the Tory ranks to take a stronger stance at by-elections after the party finished a distant third in Oldham East and Saddleworth. But the Conservative high command continued to deny giving the second-placed Lib Dems an easy ride in order to give Nick Clegg the best chance of a morale-boosting victory. Aides insisted a collapse in the Tory vote since last May’s General Election was due to Conservatives voting Lib Dem in a tactical bid to stop Labour. The contest was called after a court case unseated Labour MP Phil Woolas for telling lies about his Lib Dem rival. Yesterday Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins, who came within 103 votes of winning last May, finished 3,558 votes behind Labour winner Debbie Abrahams. Tory Kashif Ali was third with 4,481. – the Express

Cameron under fire for soft peddling

The Prime Minister is facing growing attacks from restless backbenchers – 27 of whom rebelled against the party whip over Europe this week – complaining that he is conceding too much influence to Mr Clegg’s party. Some even fear Mr Cameron is considering a Con-Lib Dem electoral pact at the next general election. The former party chairman Lord Tebbit described the Oldham East performance as “dreadful” and added: “Mr Cameron may be pleased that his decision to run a half-hearted campaign and offer good wishes to their candidate helped save the Liberals, but Conservatives will be downcast. “The Liberals fought an excellent campaign and with the help of Mr Cameron they avoided total disaster.” He claimed that the Tory tactics had played into the hands of the UK Independence Party, who came fourth with more than 2,000 votes. The MP Douglas Carswell protested that the Tory candidate, Kashif Ali, had been “let down” by the leadership. “It is usually a good idea if you want to do well as a party to make it clear that you are serious about trying to win. We have paid the price on the doorstep and our leaders should reflect on that,” he said. Bernard Jenkin, the MP for North Essex, said: “The Conservative candidate did well, considering there was such ambivalence from the leadership about whether they wanted to the Conservative Party to do well.” – Independent

THE people have spoken and their voices will reverberate along the corridors of power at Westminster. Voters in the constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth sent Labour’s Debbie Abrahams to Parliament with a thumping majority – 30 times greater than at the general election. That is an unmistakably popular verdict on the ConDem government and its ­policies: “No thanks!” It can’t be dismissed. The FibDems wanted this poll. They moved heaven and earth to get it, ousting a Labour MP through an unprecedented election court action. They poured all their resources into nominating their egregious candidate Elwyn Watkins. And they failed. Thousands of Tories then switched their votes to the LibDems in the hope of stopping Ed ­Miliband’s bandwagon. That failed, too. Tetchy Baroness Warsi, who ran the Tories’ non-campaign, claimed yesterday: “Nothing much has changed.” Oh yes it has! The first real votes cast since the general election that nobody won have given fresh momentum to Labour. – the Mirror

If David Cameron and Nick Clegg think that Oldham East and Saddleworth is a bad result, it’s time they thought again. The next few months will propel the Coalition government into a terrifying new dimension of electoral horror. This May, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories face the certain prospect of a bloodbath in the local elections, added to humiliation in the polls for the Welsh assembly. Meanwhile, Labour look set to romp to victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections – once again leaving Lib Dems and Tories devastated. Nor is that all. The national referendum on the alternative vote, also set for May, is bound to open up fresh rancour in Coalition ranks. Defeat looks inevitable, meaning Nick Clegg’s dream of electoral reform – one of his key reasons for entering into a Tory-led government – will be squashed. Afterwards, his hard-pressed troops will naturally ask what is the point of unpopularity if there’s no reward at the end of it. – the Telegraph

Miliband: Still work to do

The first real electoral test for this Conservative-led government has revealed people’s deep sense of unease about the direction in which our country is being led, and their anger at promises so solemnly made and yet so casually broken. I believe that unease stems from misgivings shared right across Britain on the three arguments that will dominate the year ahead: the economy; the damage being done to the next generation; and the way we conduct politics. From the trebling of student debt, to capitulation on bankers’ bonuses and a VAT rise squeezing working families, this government is showing it shares neither their values nor their hopes for the future. But Labour would be wrong if we thought the result in Oldham meant that the next election will somehow fall into our lap. Across Britain I know there are many who need to be convinced that Labour can offer Britain the progressive future they want. But I am also confident that Labour can again be the standard bearer for the progressive majority at the heart of British society. – Ed Miliband, the Guardian

DAVID Cameron suffered a furious backlash from Tory MPs after the party’s dismal showing in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. The Prime Minister and party chairman Baroness Warsi were slated as Labour easily won the seat. Seething Tory backbenchers said Mr Cameron deliberately ran a low-key campaign to give the Lib Dems more chance of winning. And Baroness Warsi was branded “Baroness Bonkers” after she lashed out at her colleagues. Tory MP Douglas Carswell said Conservative candidate Kashif Ali was “let down” by party leaders as he came in a distant third behind Labour’s Debbie Abrahams. – the Mirror

David Cameron came under attack last night for failing properly to back the Conservative candidate in the Oldham by-election. The Prime Minister was accused of letting down his man and party in order to help his Liberal Democrat Coalition partners. Baroness Warsi, the Tory chairman, meanwhile attempted to blame the party’s “Right wing” after Kashif Ali finished a poor third in the first proper test of public opinion since last year’s general election. Mr Ali, who had come within 2,000 votes of taking the seat last May, was comprehensively beaten by the victorious Labour candidate and the Liberal Democrats. Mr Cameron, despite visiting the constituency during the campaign, was accused of “soft-pedalling” to spare a further humiliation for Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems, who is already under pressure on tuition fees. – the Telegraph

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