Village People: Dave deserts the troops

Now that the Liberal Democrats have broken with convention to call an early by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth – the first January by-election on the British mainland since 1966 – the dilemma for the Tories is how hard they should fight it.

At the last election, the now disqualified Labour candidate, Phil Woolas, beat the Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins by only 108 votes. Labour has replaced him with a strong, locally based candidate, Debbie Abrahams, and Ed Miliband is throwing himself into the fray.

The best tactic for beating Labour might seem to be for the Tories quietly to encourage their supporters to fall in behind Mr Watkins. However, his share of the vote fell in 2010. The reason the contest was so close was that a chunk of the Labour vote defected to the Tory, Kashif Ali. With the Lib Dems in trouble nationally, many of the Tories argue that Mr Ali is the more credible challenger.

So they will not have been pleased to hear what David Cameron had to say yesterday: "The context of the by-election is that the MP elected at the election has been found in court to have told complete untruths about his opponent... In that context, we wish our partners well. They had an extremely tough time. All the unfairnesses and untruths about their candidate [Mr Watkins] – he's now been exonerated. So of course I wish them well." He did not sound like a leader intent on victory.

A short history of Miliband

Iain Dale, the Tory blogger, has said this week that he'll blog no more. Like the Labour MP and ex-blogger Tom Harris, he has had his fill of the nastiness in the blogosphere. But he has not disappeared. He tweeted excitedly the other day that his publishing firm has commissioned journalists Mehdi Hassan and James MacIntyre to write Ed Miliband's biography. Within minutes, the managing editor of the Financial Times, Robert Shrimsley, replied: "A biography of Ed Miliband!!! – there's barely enough for a tweet."

Bob, the bruiser at No 10

Man can claim to have fought apartheid when that evil existed, but few can make that boast as literally as Bob Roberts, of the Daily Mirror, who starts in January as a spin doctor for Ed Miliband. Just how fiercely he fought could be attested by a racist South African policeman who once came into contact with Roberts' fist.

Fascinatingly off topic

During a high-powered discussion in the Lords this week about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, up popped 73-year-old Lord Selsdon, who, in a 10-minute speech, told their lordships many things: that the UK has a longer coastline than India; that his great aunt Jenny Mitchell-Thompson gave him some BP shares 50 years ago which he sold to pay for his son to be privately educated; that the nations of the British Commonwealth have a combined merchant shipping fleet of 21,000 vessels; and that Stafford Cripps was his great uncle. Fascinating. But not once did he mention the oil spill.

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