David Cameron dismisses by-election pact suggestion

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Indy Politics

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed the Tories would fight hard for votes in next week's by-election and rejected claims it will be a referendum on the coalition Government.

Mr Cameron denied today's visit to Oldham East and Saddleworth was a "token" gesture and said he was breaking with political convention in being the first Prime Minister to campaign at a by-election since 1998.

Both coalition parties have denied suggestions they had struck a deal, with the Conservatives, seen as outsiders, going easy in the campaign in the hope of a Liberal Democrat victory.

"First of all find me a Prime Minister in the last 10 years who has been to a by-election. They did not go," Mr Cameron said.

"It is about choosing a new MP for Oldham and Saddleworth, it is not a verdict on Nick Clegg or the coalition or anybody else.

"They had an MP who behaved appallingly and was quite rightly stripped of his place."

Mr Cameron was asked about his "extreme warmth" towards his party's Liberal Democrat opponent in the political fight and whether the relationship was too "cosy".

"I have had meetings with our candidate Kashif Ali," Mr Cameron said, "Apart from taking some type of laid back attitude, I'm the first Prime Minister in over a decade to visit an English by-election, this is a challenge for political historians."

Mr Cameron, speaking on a visit to Manchester before travelling to the constituency, added: "I will be on the streets of Oldham and Saddleworth this afternoon, campaigning for our candidate Kashif Ali.

"We will be fighting very hard for every vote."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday made his second visit to the constituency, saying his Liberal Democrat party was "here to win".

Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins was just 103 votes short of unseating Labour's Phil Woolas at the general election last May, making the constituency one of Mr Clegg's top targets.

Mr Woolas was removed as MP by the courts because of misleading leaflets he put out during the general election campaign.

Labour leader Ed Miliband visited Oldham on Monday to support candidate Debbie Abrahams, his second visit of the campaign.

Earlier, the Prime Minister told business leaders in Manchester the Government is doing everything it can to drive growth in the UK economy.

Mr Cameron said the coalition planned to invest in the "industries of the future" such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and green energy while at the same time encouraging growth beyond the South East to balance the economy.

He said the "tough fiscal action" to cut the budget deficit did not mean the Government could not have a strategy to promote growth.

The Government wanted to reform planning laws to make it easier for entrepreneurs to expand and "lay out the red carpet" for start-up businesses, he said.

Mr Cameron added that it was necessary to tax spending with the VAT increase as part of a plan to share the burden with public sector cuts.

He said: "Make no mistake - this Government is doing everything we possibly can to drive growth and make the next decade the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history."

Mr Cameron said he had asked Whitehall departments to look at ways they can promote economic growth by opening up Government procurement, while the Foreign Office would be leading trade missions to "high-growth" countries.

He said the Government also wanted to see economic growth spread more evenly throughout the country, pointing out that if regions had grown at a similar rate the UK would be £38 billion better off.

It would achieve economic growth in the regions by introducing "powerful mayors" with "clout and passion to make change happen" in the country's biggest cities.

The Regional Growth Fund would also promote investment in run-down areas, he said.

He added: "There are no short cuts to economic recovery, and I don't promise that the road ahead will be an easy one.

"But if the people of this country pull together, if central Government, local government, business and communities work together, then I am confident that we can have strong growth, we can build a more prosperous and more fair economy.

"And we can have a brighter future for everyone in this country to look forward to."