5 Jan 2011

A curious campaign in Oldham East

Happy New Year to you from Oldham East.

There was overnight snow on Monday night which covered the uplands in the constituency where Labour is still the favourite, but still muttering darkly about worries that voters won’t turn out a week tomorrow.

But what struck me yesterday was the curious Conservative campaign here. ‬ Apart from the Party Chairman Baroness Warsi there had been no Cabinet minister visiting the seat. I can’t think of a by-election where senior figures didn’t turn up until 9 days before polling, though I accept that Christmas hols disrupted things they didn’t keep away Labour and Lib Dem bigwigs.

Anyway, today there are a big number of Tory MPs up here and ‬ yesterday Oldham had the first departmental Cabinet minister turning up – none other than Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, and the man who told Cabinet colleagues on 21 December that they (collectively, all, both parties) should do everything they can to help the Lib Dems in Oldham East.

I hear that no-one in that Cabinet meeting (including the PM) dissented from this pretty blatant piece of informal pact-making.

That angered some Tory MPs and party activists and so Andrew Mitchell’s “campaign” trip to the constituency had an air of penance about it. I hesitate to call it a campaign visit because it was a rather low-key affair. I wasn’t the only journalist up here who found it very difficult to catch up with Mr Mitchell, but we eventually met up at the party’s campaign HQ on an industrial estate from where he was going to a private, off-camera meeting at a voter’s house.

When I spoke to Mr Mitchell, he repeatedly failed to deny he’d made the reported remarks to Cabinet and insisted the campaign was a “three horse race.” ‬‪

I hear ‬‪the PM himself is expected to turn up on the stump here soon. It’ll be interesting to see how high-profile his visit is. I remember him charging through Crewe high street, an entourage festooned with balloons and bunting before addressing voters with passion from a precinct bench.

I know it’s chilly up here but even allowing for the weather I don’t expect anything that resembles that!‬‪

Jack Straw treats a Saddleworth resident to a one-on-one megaphone street dialogue.

Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election candidates:
Debbie Abrahams – Labour Party
Derek George Adams – British National Party
Kashif Ali – Conservative Party
Peter Duncan Allen – Green Party
David Laurence Bishop – Bus-Pass Elvis Party
The Flying Brick – The Official Monster Raving Loony Party
Loz Kaye – Pirate Party of the United Kingdom
Stephen Morris – English Democrats “Putting England First!”
Paul Andrew Nuttall – UK Independence Party
Elwyn Watkins – Liberal Democrats

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