Government's secret talks to aid Lib Dems in by-election

The Cabinet has secretly discussed plans to boost the Liberal Democrats' chances of winning next month's by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth. The Cabinet talks will infuriate Tory traditionalists, who suspect that David Cameron would be happy for the Liberal Democrats to win the contest.

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative International Development Secretary, is believed to have called on his party to do everything possible to help the Liberal Democrats beat Labour in the 13 January contest.

The by-election was discussed when the Cabinet reviewed the Coalition’s strategy for 2011 on Tuesday, The Independent has learnt. There was a brief “political session”, without civil servants present, at the end of the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

Cabinet sources say David Cameron and other ministers did not disagree with Mr Mitchell’s remarks. But some of his Tory colleagues were angry and surprised because – in public – the Tories insist they are fighting to win the by-election in what is seen as a three-way marginal.

The contest has been caused by the disqualification of Phil Woolas, Labour’s former Immigration Minister, who had a tiny majority of 103 over the Liberal Democrats at the May general election. The Tories were only 2,310 votes behind in third place. The result was declared void last month by an election court, which found that Mr Woolas had made false statements about Elwyn Watkins, the Liberal Democrat candidate.

The Cabinet talks will infuriate Tory traditionalists, who suspect that Mr Cameron would be happy for the Liberal Democrats to win the Oldham East contest. A week ago, he said he “wished them well” in the by-election but insisted the Tories were fighting to win it.

Labour hopes that disaffection amongst people who voted Liberal Democrat in May at Nick Clegg’s decision to join the Tories in coalition will outweigh any backlash against Mr Woolas. Some Tory MPs suspect Mr Cameron wants to save Mr Clegg from a by-election defeat that could erode support for the Coalition amongst Liberal Democrats.

The Cabinet’s discussion will also fuel speculation that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg may seek to prolong the Coalition beyond the next general election. At a press conference on Tuesday, the Prime Minister left the door open to an electoral pact or anti-Labour tactical voting.

Yesterday Peter Lilley, the former Cabinet minister and a right-wing Eurosceptic, became the latest Tory to suggest the Coalition could be extended beyond 2015. He told BBC Radio 4: “I can conceive that we might fight [the next election] as a coalition. I think the process of being in government had produced a degree of realism, on the part of a lot of the Liberals that will make them better partners in future than they were a prospective partners when this Coalition started….We might find even people on my wing of the party will say perhaps better have them in bed with us than fighting us in the election.”

A continuing coalition has already been backed by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister; Nicholas Boles, a Cameron ally and Tory MP and Jacob Rees-Mogg, a right-wing Tory backbencher.

But Peter Bone, another right-wing Tory MP, said the “vast bulk” of Conservatives want to fight the next election as a separate party. He hoped the prospect of a joint coalition ticket had been “killed off” by this week’s comments by several Liberal Democrat ministers to undercover reporters posing as constituents, in which they criticised some government policies, Mr Cameron and the Chancellor George Osborne.

As nominations closed in Oldham East yesterday, the Tories denied claims that they were soft-pedalling to help their Coalition partners.

Iain Wright; MP for Hartlepool and Labour’s campaign manager in the by-election: “I have seen no activity from the Tories whatsoever. I think they have left it too late.” But Kashif Ali, the Tory candidate, dismissed the suggestion “bonkers” and “preposterous” and said he was “very happy” with support he was getting from the Tories regionally and nationally.

A Tory spokesman said: “We would not comment on what may or may not have been said at Cabinet but Andrew [Mitchell] is right behind Kashif Ali’s campaign and has already confirmed that he will be in Oldham East & Saddleworth for the campaign early in the New Year.”

Mr Cameron, the Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and the Defence Secretary Liam Fox will also campaign in the constituency.

Baroness Warsi, the Tory chairman, said:“What we have in our candidate Kashif Ali is a local lad, a strong campaigner who continues to fight for the people of this community. Our message is very clear; we’re fighting this campaign on the issues that matter, and I’m proud to be fighting alongside Kashif.”

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players