Cameron out on the stump – but does he really want to win?

David Cameron made political history yesterday by being the first Prime Minister to go campaigning in a by-election which, it is widely suspected, he is desperate to lose. The Prime Minister did not say that, of course. He insisted that the Conservative candidate, Kashif Ali, and his helpers are out to win Thursday's contest in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

"Of course I want people to vote for Kashif Ali." he said, standing amid dozens of smashed vehicles during a visit to an Oldham car-repair shop. "He's a very good candidate. He fought a very good campaign. He was born locally, he lives locally and he was educated locally."

He added that the Conservatives were fighting a "proper campaign", and have even produced eight different leaflets so far. He also remarked several times during his brief visit that he was the first Prime Minister to put in a personal appearance in an English by-election campaign for more than 13 years.

What Mr Cameron did not point out was that the precedent he was referring to was Tony Blair's intervention in a by-election in Uxbridge in 1997. It was not a success. The Conservatives snatched their first by-election in eight years. Similarly, one wing of the Conservative party is silently hoping that Oldham East will give the embattled Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, his first election success of 2011.

In the May election, the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins came second, only 103 votes behind Labour. Given the humiliating way in which the incumbent Labour MP, Phil Woolas, was ejected from the Commons after a court ruled he had lied about Mr Watkins during the campaign, the Liberal Democrats ought to be strongly placed to win.

But what is bedevilling Mr Watkins is not his own record as a candidate, but that of Mr Clegg and other Liberal Democrat ministers. Labour's shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, called into the village of Shaw in the northern part of the constituency yesterday, and the first voter he encountered on Market Street was Mrs Aileen Kramer, who used to vote Liberal Democrat but has switched to Labour, disillusioned with the Lib Dems' record in government over tax, tuition fees and other issues. "I've always been Lib Dem, but I feel we've been sold out," she said. "I voted for them because I felt they stood for the things I believe in, but I think they have been traitors to themselves."

In Oakham and nearby Rochdale, the Lib Dems have a long-standing, solid electoral base inherited from the Liberal Party, but if disillusionment causes it to melt on Thursday, Mr Clegg will have an increasingly mutinous party.

Debbie Abrahams, the Labour candidate in Oldham East, has the look of a future MP. She is a public-health consultant and has lived just outside the constituency boundaries for 24 years. She is married to John Abrahams, a former captain of the Lancashire cricket club who now manages the England under-19 team.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there